DSC 8885 250Tent Meeting bows to power of music

Louis B. Hobson - Calgary Herald
Published on: June 23, 2016

The return of the rousing gospel musical Tent Meeting to Rosebud Theatre is pure synchronicity.

After all, what better place to stage a musical about a revival meeting in a small rural town than in an actual small rural town.

Ironically, Tent Meeting was born not in rural Alberta, but in Edmonton 32 years ago.

Rosebud’s artistic director Morris Ertman was fresh out of university and running his own little theatre company.

He needed a musical that wouldn’t have half its budget relegated to royalties, which meant he’d have to write it which he did with fellow upstart thespian Ron Reed.

“I was raised listening to four-part harmony gospel music. My mother played piano for a group of guys who loved singing four-part harmony and they used to rehearse in our living room,” recalls Ertman.

“I knew the music and knew the songs and I knew the kind of effect this style of music has on people.  It’s infectious. All I needed was a story to showcase the music.”

What Ertman came up with was something straight out of the W.O. Mitchell handbook of can’t-fail rural folklore. We’re in a small prairie town in the 1930s that’s suffering a drought.

“Farm couple George and Dolly are feeling the heat, not just from those dry summer winds, but from their own relationship. George is bitter because he can’t sing anymore.

“He seems to have lost his voice and now this group he used to sing with is coming to town and his wife Dolly is insisting on playing for them,” explains Ertman.

“The play is all about how a group of friends, on this particular day, in this particular place use the power of music to sing George back into the rest of his life. Music really does have that ability.”

Ertman didn’t have far to look for which songs to use in Tent Meeting.

“Back then, I had all my mother’s old song books from the ’30s and ’40s and I still have them today. In fact, a few of them with all her notes and those old paper clips have made it into this version of Tent Meeting.

“When the singers are practising in the musical they’re using my mother’s books.”

In its original Edmonton incarnation, Tent Meeting was an unqualified hit but, best of all, Ertman’s mother gave it her stamp of approval.

In 2000, Ertman created a touring version of Tent Meeting, which visited Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, the Pumphouse Theatre in Calgary and ended its run in Rosebud.

“Wherever we played, I saw how this little musical with its simple story and ageless music lifted people’s spirits because it takes us to a place of hope.

“This has been a couple of very tough years for some people in Alberta and I think many people will be able to identify with George and Dolly or know a George and Dolly.

“If Tent Meeting can make people leave their own problems at the theatre door and get lost in this wonderful music, we’ll have done our job.”

Calgary actor Declan O’Reilly plays George and Ertman says he “really gets to the broken heart of this ordinary every man and Seana-Lee Wood comes to us directly from Stratford to revive her role as Dolly.”

Best of all Jonathan Bruce returns as the cigar chomping Sam, the jolliest of the singers, the role he’s done in several revivals of Tent Meeting.

Joining Bruce, O’Reilly and Wood are David Snider and Blair Young.

Ertman directs with musical direction by Bill Hamm and they are excited to announce that tapes of the 2007 Rosebud production of Tent Meeting will be on sale.

Tickets for Tent Meeting are available by calling 1-800-267-7553.

 

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