Interview Series – Lake Nora Arms

Asked by Heather Davies, of Toronto Noir.
Answered by Co-Adaptor/Composer Jane Miller and Director Liza Balkan of

Lake Nora Arms

1) What was it that drew you to this material?

Liza Balkan

Liza Balkan

(Director Liza Balkan) I am a fan of Michael Redhill’s  beautiful writing and love Jane Miller’s music. I first became aware of this  project several years ago when  Brian Quirt and Naomi Campbell (Nightswimming)  asked to be  in a workshop of it. I fell in love with the material. When Jane asked if I would direct  it for Summerworks (and some Outdoor Festivals prior to that)  I jumped.  Also, I’ve never directed something quite like Lake Nora Arms :this  particular mix of  a cappella singing and poetry. I figured it would be a very sweet challenge.


2) What has been your process of adapting it into a theatre piece?

Jane Miller

Jane Miller

(Co-Adaptor/Composer Jane Miller) Brian Quirt of Nightswimming had read the book and thought it could be put on stage. He asked me to write some songs with some of the poems, the ones that spoke to me the strongest as songs. I did four songs for a 30-minute version at Buddies Rhubbarb! In 1997. Since then Brian’s company has produced several workshops of the music and script and we did a staged reading at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Edmonton, as part of the National Arts Centre’s On The Verge New Play Reading Series in 2004. All these workshops gave us amazing information about how to get a flow throughout the piece, especially because it’s not a linear storyline, and how to make the music effective for the text.

3) how similar or different has the process been for you/the company from previous work?

(Jane Miller) I’m so lucky that Brian Quirt and Naomi  Campbell of Nightswimming stayed true to this project for so many years. This is the mandate of Nightswimming, to develop new theatre works, so this long and careful journey to staging is very much in keeping with their usual process. For me, it is unique in my career and has hugely impacted me as a composer and creator.

4) what’s been the most memorable moment of this development process for you so far?

Lake Nora1(Liza Balkan) Watching the actors totally break the 4th wall in the outdoor 35-minute concert version of the piece being done for the Edge of the Woods Festival in Huntsville and surrounding areas.  Doing this piece outdoors, in the setting that Michael was writing about, has allowed the actors to connect with the audience in a beautifully immediate , personal way.  Boundries of  “participant” “observer” “text”, “song” and “poetry” all blur as  the actors and the audience connect so fully and easily – with each other and with the landscape that surrounds them. So, watching the actors actively go for this connection and EXPERIENCE this connection for the first time , was a huge treat – for everyone concerned.

5) Most memorable moment for the company so far?

(Jane Miller) Having the dancefloor to ourselves at a bar in Huntsville on “Retro 80’s” night and dancing our asses off.

6) What would you like your audience to take away from seeing/experiencing this piece?

(Liza Balkan) Hopefully, they sit inhaling Michael’s gorgeous words and Jane’s equally haunting music, the audience will be able  to leave the city for a short while  and enter in to  their own familiar  – or not so familiar  – memories that are connected to nature and summer and cottage and  youth and innocence and water.

6) what’s you favorite color? (joke!)

(Jane Miller) It changes from time to time. Right now it’s true robin’s egg blue, which has a lot of green in it. I found some broken robin’s eggshell while up north on tour and I’m going to paint my living room that colour. With an orange couch.

7) how does this piece ‘fit into’ the rest of the writer’s work?

Michael Redhill

Michael Redhill

(Jane Miller) For myself, it is a departure to be adapting someone else’s writing to the stage, although I’ve often collaborated on writing songs and enjoy having someone else provide the lyrics – gives me some structure and inspiration. For Brian Quirt, again this is a common thread in his work, adapting source material and working in concert with other people. In fact, he’s pretty genius at it.   And for Michael Redhill, to my knowledge this is the first and only instance of his poems being adapted to stage, though he’s written plays (Building Jerusalem – which has won Dora and Chalmers awards and was nominated for GG award ) and wonderful novels (Martin Sloane, Consolation).

8) What do you feel is the ‘unique aspect’ or ‘unique selling point’ for you piece? (i.e. why should I see this piece as opposed to any others?)

(Liza Balkan) The mix of fabulous a cappella singing and stunning,  sometimes dense and always rich and evocative writing. Hey, it’s Redhill!!

9) how are you feeling about being part of Summerworks?

(Jane Miller) Delighted!

10) what are your hopes/desires for the piece after Summerworks?

(Jane Miller)
We’re doing the show pre-SW at the Leacock Summer Festival, which is a writer’s fest in Orilla. So we hope to do more of that sort of thing with this little show. It’s a great crossover for writer’s fests given Michael’s great reputation. And we also hope to book it as a fundraising show for theatre companies and some summer runs in the Muskokas and other cottaging areas in the coming years.

Thanks Heather!

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