Director's Chair - Paul Muir talks 'Miracle on 34th Street'

December 8, 2016

Paul Muir returns to our Mainstage, reprising his directing role after last year’s ‘Mass Appeal'. Previous Rosebud Theatre directing credits include ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, ‘Tuesdays With Morrie’, and ‘The Homecoming’. His BMO Studio Stage productions ‘Confessions of a Paperboy’ and ‘Underneath the Lintel’ played to sold out audiences and were remounted on the West Coast at Chemainus Theatre Festival and Pacific Theatre. No stranger to the spotlight; selected acting credits include ‘Outside Mullingar’, ‘Our Town’, ‘Man of La Mancha’, ‘Voice of the Prairie’, and ‘Billy Bishop Goes to War’. Education Director for Rosebud School of the Arts and resident company member for Rosebud Theatre, Paul holds an M.F.A. in directing from York University, and a B.A. with specialization from the University of Alberta. He served as artist-in-residence at Trinity Western University in 2014, and has worked as a professional actor and director for various theatre companies across Canada.

Paul Muir in action. Photo by Kelsey Krogman.

First of all, had you seen the original 'Miracle on 34th Street' movie before directing Rosebud's production?

Yes, I saw the original 1947 film with Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker when I was young. Maybe 11 or 12? I remember having a similar reaction to it as I did with watching the original It’s a Wonderful Life. I was totally taken with the sentiment of both those classics. I remember being significantly moved by both films. I loved them!

How does the classic Christmas film figure into directing a staged version? Do you use the original for reference, or reinterpret everything?  

I haven’t actually seen the original film for years. I did watch a couple of scenes on YouTube just to remind me of certain things while working on this show, but I didn’t really use it as any kind of reference. Mostly I took what was on the page, and tried to find a way to tell this story in a way that would flow from scene to scene. This adaptation by Caleb Marshall was written for a very different kind of theatre than what we have here in Rosebud, so there are always some [interpretive] challenges in finding a way to translate the story for the Opera House.

What surprised you about the story as you spent more time in the world?

Well, I must say I continued to fall deeper and deeper in love with all these characters as they came to life with this cast. I could not have imagined a better person to play Kris Kringle. When Morris and I were going through potential actors for that role we went through a number of names, and then Morris suggested Tim, and that was that. The choice was obvious. He’s perfect! I can’t imagine a better person for Kris Kringle.

Paul gives rehearsal notes - while wearing sandals on a snowflake. Photo by Jordan Cutbill.

Is this a play about belief in Santa, or something more?

Well, of course so much more. We talked a lot in rehearsal about the importance of belief, of the competition between consumerism and the true meaning of Christmas, and the need for a sense of “home” and “family” in our lives. Hope is a big theme in this play, and how we must never give up. This story is about the miracle of belief. I think my favourite line in the play is "Faith is believing in things even when common sense tells you not to." It’s about a little girl being given the miracle of a home and a family. It’s about the miracle of a single-mother revealing her true heart. It’s about the miracle of a young lawyer discovering where his real gifts lie in the legal field. And about the miracle of a simple store helper discovering his true calling as “deputy" Santa!

Did you believe in Santa, growing up?

Of course I did - I still do! The idea of Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Saint Nicolas, being an embodiment of the heart of Christ is SO important to help us remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Is there anything significant about the time period (late 1940’s) the story is set in?

I must say, one thing that really struck me about this story was what it meant in its time. Imagine a story in 1947 of a single mother and career woman with a very significant role and set of responsibilities at Macy’s Department Store. Doris is in charge of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as well as being Mr. Macy’s second in command. That’s huge! And fantastic! Also, Fred is portrayed as a pretty "sensitive guy" in many ways. His sensibilities are much more "now" than 1947. It's quite refreshing.

In addition,  I think it was very bold to tell a story like this in the wake of WWII... the importance of a story about belief was timely. And it's just as timely now.

You’re not only the director of this show, but the Education Director of Rosebud School of the Arts. How does belief play a factor in being an artist?

Well, who I am as a person of Faith, as a person who tries to follow the teachings of Christ, and who I am as an artist, is really indivisible. My Faith and my desire to be a Storyteller often feel one-and-the-same. My Faith informs everything I do in some way. And as Education Director at RSA of course that becomes a big part of my teaching, and planning, and even my administration work. It’s all to purpose. It’s all mission-driven if you will.

Were there unexpected moments in rehearsal?

I loved working with the children in this show. We have two wonderful little girls playing the role of Susan Walker (Kaia Wilson & Hannah Andersen) – they each take a few shows per week… and a great young guy playing the little boys’ roles (Asher Eliuk). They were all surprisingly fabulous to work with. I remember giving a note to Kaia one day about her character, and she responded with something like, “Yes. I know. I feel so close to Susan Walker. I understand that she wants a family and a home. I feel like I could almost be Susan Walker!” Well, that’s how actors talk. Here she is, as a 9-year-old, talking like an experienced actor. It was delightful.

Do you have a favorite holiday movie?

Hmmm… I’ll give you a few. It’s a Wonderful Life, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Love Actually, and of course – Miracle on 34th Street.

What’s your favorite Christmas treat?

Turkey, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, and my Mum's Creamy Celery!

What are you most looking forward to this Christmas Season?

Well, to be honest, I’m looking forward to taking a break. It’s been a busy term. [understatement]

Director's Chair - Paul Muir talks 'Miracle on 34th Street'

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