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Celtic-rock singer to play villain in Strike!

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Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle has agreed to play a lead role in Strike! The Movie, a film adaptation of the historical romance set against the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.

Doyle, lead singer of the Canadian folk rock band from Newfoundland, will play the villain Senator Gideon Robertson, the federal minister of labour, who ordered the arrest of strike leaders and backed the government's decision to send in the Royal Northwest Mounted police to crush the strike with a confrontation that became known as Bloody Saturday.

"I was thrilled to get a chance to be a part of such a cool Canadian story," Doyle said this week. "Also, Winnipeg has been dear to my heart since GBS has been so welcomed there for two decades. I jump at any chance to work there."

Doyle's acting career includes 2010's Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, and a recurring role on the CBC television series Republic of Doyle. He joins Steven Page, formerly the lead singer of Barenaked Ladies, who earlier was cast to play central character Mike Sokolowski, the Ukrainian immigrant who unwittingly finds himself at the epicentre of the labour strife.

The $10-million movie adaptation of the 2005 Danny Schur/Rick Chafe stage musical has been long-simmering due to the unsuccessful search for a name female lead. Rachel McAdams was the latest this week to pass on the project that is slated to shoot next year.

Schur is happy to have Doyle under contract.

"We were looking for someone with an imposing physical and vocal presence for Robertson, and Alan fit the bill 100 per cent," said Schur. "But then, when I compared the historic picture of Robertson with Alan's, I was dumbstruck; the resemblance was uncanny. A case of happy casting accident? Or the divine intervention of the casting gods? It's spooky!"

Doyle says it is important for Canadians to tell their own stories on film because the big screen has a way of immortalizing historical events. He believes there are many great Canadian moments that deserve that treatment.

Doyle sees the parallel between what happened in 1919 Winnipeg with contemporary Newfoundland.

"I grew up in a fishing town where, for centuries, there was a huge disconnect between the fishermen and the merchants" he said. "Since the collapse of the inshore cod fishery the fishermen are more at odds with government. I suspect long after I'm gone, the push and pull of the fishermen and the authorities, or the farmer and the bank, or the union and the company will still be raging. It is a timeless story."

Great Big Sea will be at Brandon's Keystone Centre Oct. 30 as part of the band's 20th anniversary tour.

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The central character in Ginny Collins' Good Intentions, which had its première Wednesday, was not conceived as a Jewish doctor.

When WJT artistic director Michael Nathanson was her dramaturge, he suggested to Collins, a gentile, that by making her protagonist Jewish -- and motivated by the concept of tikkum olam (Hebrew for "heal the world") -- it could find a home on the WJT stage. He said he guided her through the thinking of the character from a Jewish perspective.

"At times, when developing a new play, the artistic director will absolutely have input and suggestions," says Nathanson. "For me, it wasn't that huge of an issue. For me, if the theme didn't fit, I wouldn't have done it."

It's not the first time that Nathanson attempted to tweak a script to make it programmable for WJT. A few years, ago he approached American playwright Sarah Ruhl about changing a few words in her surrealist comedy Dead Man's Cellphone, which didn't have anything explicitly Jewish in the script. He suggested that by changing the word church to temple and psalm to Mourner's Kaddish he could stage it at WJT.

"Sarah said no, which is totally her prerogative," Nathanson said. "Sometimes you have to do that, because there are only a few Jewish playwrights in Winnipeg."

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Manitoba Theatre for Young People has hired Max Reimer as interim general manager as it attempts to get its financial house in order.

You won't find many more qualified at running a theatre than Reimer, who has helmed Ontario's Huron Playhouse Theatre (1993-96), Hamilton's Aquarius Theatre (1996-2008) and the Vancouver Playhouse from 2008 to its shocking closing in 2012. Last April, he made his Prairie Theatre Exchange debut directing Gunmetal Blues and in 2011, he directed Brief Encounter for Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

"We get all that experience to draw upon to help rebuild the internal financial operations of the organization," says MTYP artistic producer Derek Aasland. "He will stick around to mid-December and maybe longer."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 G3

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