The Incompleat Folksinger. Uno Fest May 2015

The Incompleat Folksinger. Uno Fest May 2015. This is a review of the initial production by The Other Guys Theatre Company (OGT) in January 2015 at the Metro Studio.

The Incompleat Folksinger by Pete Seeger featuring Mark Hellman is a mini-history lesson with beautiful tunes, accomplished storytelling and an immense heart.

OGT is well-known for their historical musical revues Good Timber and Moodyville Tales, which included Hellman as part of the cast. For this latest effort, artistic director Ross Desprez and Hellman have pared the story and staging down to one main, one mike, a guitar, banjo, bench and stool.  Musical direction was provided by Tobin Stokes, and lighting by Rebekkah Johnson.

The Incompleat Folksinger Uno Fest 2015

It takes an assured performer, one familiar with the vagaries of audience participation, to stand, in-effect naked, and take the assembly on a journey through collective memory. Hellman, with his years of performing, and community work—particularly as founder of the Vic High Neighbourhood Choir—definitely has the necessary skills.

Anyone with a passing interest in the American folk song has at the very least some knowledge of Pete Seeger. The Incompleat Folksinger helps to fill in the gaps. Born in 1919 into a “comfortable” academic family—his father was the musicologist Charles Seeger—his passion for folk songs was ignited as he travelled while still a teen with his father on trips “boondogging” in the American South, in search of long-lost melodies.

Dropping out of Harvard he began to sing for trade union meetings and hootenannies. Seeger remained an activist all his life, was on the front lines of civil rights and Vietnam War protests, and was subsequently blacklisted. One very telling episode recounts his appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and his principled stand—refusing to testify he invoked the First Amendment and was ordered jailed.

His voice continued to ring, almost until the day he died, in 2014 at the age of 95—in latter years, in support of Occupy Now and against the XL Pipeline and fracking.

I can think of no more fitting tribute to his life than this joyful exploration in word and song.  The mainly older audience was familiar with the material, and sang out, with great enthusiasm, as Hellman strummed along. While some of the content is bittersweet there is also a sense of urgency in the message.  Seeger calls us all to live the life of our values.  Speaking to a young person after the show, it became apparent how important it is to share positive stories of people making a difference—with what they have and where they are—long into old age.

The Other Guys Theatre Company has a hit on their hands with The Incompleat Folksinger—with its wide appeal (fans of history, music and good stories will clap, hum and follow every word intently), I foresee a future of touring this production widely in North America and beyond, much as Seeger toured the world as the troubadour of generations of fair-minded people.

Pete Seeger was a folk singer, political activist, and a key figure in the mid-20th century American folk music revival.  He sang in defence of the poor, the oppressed, and the exploited; and always to enliven and encourage, to delight, and to tell tales. The Incompleat Folksinger, adapted by Ross Desprez and Mark Hellman from the book of the same name, shares, in Seeger’s own words and music, his  inspirations, his conflicts with the bosses and the government, his favorite songs,  stories, and instruments, and the kind of learning that comes from listening carefully. “Any fool can get complicated,” he wrote. “We are born in simplicity but die of complications”.

Directed by Ross Desprez with musical direction by Tobin Stokes.

The Incompleat Folksinger by Pete Seeger
The Other Guys Theatre Company (Victoria)
Written by Pete Seeger. Adapted for the stage by Ross Desprez and Mark Hellman
Performed by Mark Hellman
Directed by Ross Desprez with music direction by Tobin Stokes
2 hours (including intermission) – musical
Tickets $20

Sat May 23, 7:00 * (Pay What You Can)
Sun May 24, 2:00
Tickets $20 at Ticket Rocket, online, in person (#2-1609 Fisgard at Blanshard), or by phone 250 590 0691

‘A good song reminds us what we’re fighting for.’ Folk singer, political activist, and a key figure in the American folk music revival, Pete Seeger sang in defense of the poor, the oppressed, and the exploited; and always to enliven, encourage, and delight. Through his own words and music (and Mark Hellman’s inspiring performance) share Seeger’s stories, his battles, and his favourite songs.

About @lacouvee

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