Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Take A Good Look Around - This Is Your Hometown

Many years ago I was a Coronation Street junkie. For those not familiar with it Coronation Street is  long-running television drama out of England, a staple of British viewers for decades. At the time I watched it I had never been to England, and nor did I have any really strong ties there (no British husband or parents, for instance). People would ask me, quizzically, why I chose a British soap opera over American ones, and I always replied "because it is real".

 I didn't mean "real" in the sense that it was "reality television", because it is carefully scripted and filmed - I meant "real" because it was not all beautiful people living glamourous lives, with executive jobs in multi-million dollar companies and a BMW in their garage. No, with Coronation Street the people were ones I suspected you could find in any city or town in England, average folk who struggled to pay the mortgage and got fired and sometimes lost their car due to repossession and worked as janitors. It was real - and last night I got to see something real, too. Last night I went to see Hometown the Musical at Keyano Theatre, and like Coronation Street it was raw and real - but in this case not about a place across an ocean, but rather right outside my door.

To say Hometown is brilliant is a bit like saying I like shoes, or am passionate about life. Brilliant is the wrong word, far too diminishing of what it is, and how it made me feel. You see yesterday was a hard day in my world. It was an emotional roller coaster of a day, a day in which it appears the Intrepid Junior Blogger went on a date (reminding me that my baby isn't one anymore), a day in which I encountered two mothers of young men lost from this world far too soon (and their grief and pain lodged in my heart as I too am a mother), and a day in which I felt buffeted my the winds of life. By the time I arrived at Keyano Theatre I was, quite frankly, a bit of a mess, and I hoped to be entertained. But I wasn't. I was, instead, uplifted, given hope, and reminded once again of not only the sorrow we find in life but the joy, too.

Writers, creators, and directors Claude Giroux and Michael Beamish deserve great acknowledgement for this accomplishment. Hometown is far from "just" a musical - it is the story of us, the story of Fort McMurray and this region. But it's not a dry historical take, although you will learn some history. This is a story of the present, and the future, set to music and dance. This is the story of Kate, a young woman born and raised here, and the story of her parents, who came here before she was born. This is the story of Patience the Filipino nanny, and her daughter, too. This is the story of a young couple from Newfoundland, one who decides to call this home, and one who decides to leave this place because for them it never will be home. This is the story of Grandpa George and his family, Grandpa serving as the source of history in a region so very rich with it. This is the story of the "bar boys", Bear and Billy and The Coach and The Poet, the ones you find in every community who both open and close the bar every day, and who are quite likely often the ones with the greatest wisdom to impart. This is the story of a day in the life of the Fort McMurray airport, the coming and going, so profound a setting in this community where the very nature is that transience. But this isn't about transient workers who come and go, who arrive and leave - this is the story of  my home.

Last night the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I sat in a darkened theatre, and she and I watched the story of our home play out across a stage.You see this is the only home the IJB has ever known, coming here when she was 3 years old. She is a tough audience, that one, thirteen going on thirty-three, but she loved Hometown - because it made sense to her. She recognized the characters not as caricatures but rather as strong depictions of people in this community, and even in her life. On occasion, like when one woman named Sonia told her story, I would turn to her and say "This is true - this is her real story of life here" the IJB would nod because she knew that all these stories, the good and the bad, the hopeful and the end of hope, happened right here. She was in awe of Julien Naud, the dancing janitor who owned the stage again and again, and Kim Hurley, the security guard who was at odds with the janitor over musical preference. She was delighted to see Nolan Haukeness from Rock 97.9 playing himself, and Jerry Neville from Country 93.3 in his role as radio announcer, too (and when Jerry, knowing I was in the audience, mentioned my name during the second act the IJB beamed at me, proud, I think, which made me smile, too). She loved the passenger service attendant who had very few lines but who gesticulated wildly, providing an emotional backdrop to every scene.

As for me? Well, I loved all the characters. Russell Thomas as Grandpa George was brilliant, of course, a role that seemed designed for Russell despite the age disparity between him and his character. In Kate I saw me over twenty years ago, a young woman intent on leaving home to seek her future in another city, just as I did when I moved across the country from Saskatoon to Toronto, having no idea what I would do when I got there (and the rest, as they say, is history). I saw glimpses of myself and my life in almost every character, and the musical and dance scenes were undoubtedly some of the best I have ever witnessed on any stage. The scene with our mayor Melissa Blake made me smile, particularly when she was dancing on the bar and I tried to mentally run through other mayors and determine which of those would agree to dance on a bar in a community musical (for the record I could come up with almost exactly zero). From the very young performers, like an infant, to the much older ones it was a complete tour de force, a joy ride from start to finish, an explosion of talent and music and community...and home.

And that is what it was. It was home. There were moments during the musical when I cried. I am not going to tell you when, because your moments of tears when you see it (and I am assuming you will because you are fool if you do not) may differ from mine, and this is the rare instance when the reasons behind my tears are simply too personal to share here. You see I have been here for over a decade, and in that time my life has changed dramatically. When I arrived here this was not home. In fact I could have decided it would not be home, and could have resisted the allure and charm and whimsical nature of this crazy place, but at some point I could no longer resist, and I gave in. At some point I began to call this place home, and once I did there was no going back, because this is home. This is the place I have felt most at home in my entire life, and I am on the verge of it being the place I have lived longest in that life, too. This is the place where I feel the strongest connection, the strongest emotional ties, the most pride and ownership. I love Saskatoon, where I grew up, and Toronto, where I became an adult. I love Red Lake, where the IJB was born, too. But this place, this Fort McMurray? It is beyond love for me. It is something far deeper, and far more profound. This is the only place that has ever brought me to tears again and again, because there is something here that I cannot explain but that I feel in my heart every day. I never thought I would be able to express it, and yet somehow last night those feelings danced across a stage at Keyano Theatre right in front of my eyes.

Last night the audience gave the cast and crew of Hometown a standing ovation, and Russell Thomas referred to it as the longest standing ovation he has ever seen. I would like to differ, though. I don't think that was a standing ovation at all. I think by the end of the musical the line dividing the audience from the stage had completely dissolved, you see. I think the audience felt like part of the show, part of the dance chorus, and so when the final moments came as a collective group we joined in for the final number, turning it into the largest dance number the Keyano Theatre has likely ever seen. For a few moments, during those songs and cast acknowledgements, every person in that audience was part of Hometown the Musical, part of the cast - because each and every one of us is part of the cast of life in this community, too. The actors and singers and dancers in Hometown may have played out our home on the stage but those in the audience were part of the show, too, each and every one of us playing out our roles here every day. I think, by the end of those three hours, we all felt like we were part of the cast of our hometown.

To those who do not have tickets I say this: get them now. Do not hesitate. Do not miss seeing this show. I have tears in my eyes even as I write this morning, early as it is. I find myself remembering moments, relating them to my own experience here, recalling the stories, and humming "Fix You" from Coldplay. For me, though, there is one song that will always stick out in my mind. Look around you now, because this is your hometown, Fort McMurray. There is a chance for you to see the story of your hometown played out on stage - and every single day there is a chance for you to live the story, to add your story to the tens of thousands of stories that make up this community. This is my hometown, not because I was born here but because I chose it to be. This is my hometown in my heart. And last night I saw my heart up on stage, dancing and singing and telling the story of this place surrounded by boreal forest and under the shimmering northern lights. Last night I saw real people and real stories, just like when I watched Coronation Street so many years ago. But this was better, you see. This was about my hometown.


  1. Thanks so much Theresa. It became clear from the very beginning that this was going to be personal. The emotion embedded in every person that has been on this journey has connected with the audience in a way that is uniquely special. Your words reinforce my belief that Premier Redford should drop all her plans for next Saturday and come to Keyano Theatre for closing night. She deserves to see the essence of our Hometown played out in front of her eyes.

  2. Beautiful blog, Theresa. You captured it! I was there last night and agree with your perspective that it was audience joining cast and celebrating - not only the 100's of accomplishments on the stage, but the feeling we get when we proudly say, "This is my hometown"! Thank you!!