December 14, 2018

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Lasting impact

MTYP founder reluctant to use the word 'legacy' as she returns to direct Comet in Moominland

Since 1989, the puppet story Comet in Moominland has stood as one of the greatest theatre achievements of Manitoba Theatre for Young People and its founding artistic director, Leslee Silverman, who co-created the show alongside playwright Graham Whitehead and stage designer William Chesney.

Its return to its theatre of origin as the opening show of the new season represents more than an opportunity to replay one of MTYP’s greatest hits. More pointedly, it offered an opportunity for Silverman herself to return to the theatre she helped build at The Forks more than five years after she was escorted from the building in 2013 for reasons its board of directors kept vague.

Silverman still recalls the details of that March day with some bitterness: “Arriving in a building in my winter coat and Sorels and 15 minutes later being walked from my office, being told to leave my computer, lock the door and leave the building.”

Two years after that trauma, Silverman sued for damages. The case was resolved outside of court last year.

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Since 1989, the puppet story Comet in Moominland has stood as one of the greatest theatre achievements of Manitoba Theatre for Young People and its founding artistic director, Leslee Silverman, who co-created the show alongside playwright Graham Whitehead and stage designer William Chesney. 

Its return to its theatre of origin as the opening show of the new season represents more than an opportunity to replay one of MTYP’s greatest hits. More pointedly, it offered an opportunity for Silverman herself to return to the theatre she helped build at The Forks more than five years after she was escorted from the building in 2013 for reasons its board of directors kept vague. 

Silverman still recalls the details of that March day with some bitterness: "Arriving in a building in my winter coat and Sorels and 15 minutes later being walked from my office, being told to leave my computer, lock the door and leave the building." 

Two years after that trauma, Silverman sued for damages. The case was resolved outside of court last year. 

Lawyer Cynthia Lazar, who represented MTYP in the case, told the Free Press "the parties resolved this matter between themselves." She refused to elaborate.

Leslee Silverman, the founding artistic director of MTYP, during a rehearsal for Comet in Moominland. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Leslee Silverman, the founding artistic director of MTYP, during a rehearsal for Comet in Moominland. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

After the case was resolved, Silverman returned to MTYP to helm a new production of Comet, a gig Silverman finds gloriously appropriate.

"It’s cathartic — I always like to use Greek theatre terminology," she says during a break from directing the show.

"It was felt there seemed to be no reason to not celebrate my legacy," she says, adding with a shudder: "I hate the word ‘legacy.’

"This is a gorgeous piece and the right piece to be doing, in that it is about scary things that happen to people unexpectedly."


On this day, Silverman is putting finishing touches on the show with actors Jennifer Lyon and David Warburton (who happens to be Silverman’s ex-husband), lighting designer Bill Williams and puppeteer Shawn Kettner, smack in the middle of the MTYP auditorium. Under a big white tent, kids will sit on the floor surrounded by Chesney’s gorgeous miniature sets, depicting, among other things, a mountain cave, a castle and a lighthouse.

David Warburton and Jennifer Lyon on Comet in Moominland's Garnet Lizard Cave set. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

David Warburton and Jennifer Lyon on Comet in Moominland's Garnet Lizard Cave set. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Moominland is an adaptation of a Finnish story by Tove Jansson about a village threatened by a potentially apocalyptic event. When the adaptation played in 1989, the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, it mirrored the anxiety that accompanied the tension-fraught finale to the Cold War.

"(It reflected) the sense that children feel of an imminent danger coming, but we don’t know when or what," Silverman says of the original run. "When we created the show in the late ‘80s, we all had the sense of that."

Watching the story unfold beneath the theatre’s canopied dome is a safe space to address the abstract anxieties of troubled times, Silverman says.

"If you’re watching a superhero (movie), it’s one thing," she says. "If you’re watching little creatures and a big comet in the sky getting redder and redder and redder and it’s going to hit, and you’re immersed in that tent, you’re not watching the play, you’re in the environment of it.

"The children need to live through their fears and find comfort," she says. "It’s so perfect in so many ways."


Comet in Moominland is an adaptation of a Finnish story by Tove Jansson about a village threatened by a potentially apocalyptic event. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Comet in Moominland is an adaptation of a Finnish story by Tove Jansson about a village threatened by a potentially apocalyptic event. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Since leaving MTYP, Silverman has moved to Vancouver. "I am now in a cohort of a doctorate program at Simon Fraser University, and I’ve been there for four years in a graduate program.

"I’m writing a doctorate on the history of the imagination," she says. "Don’t ask me why. I love the topic."

Current artistic director Pablo Felices-Luna says he was happy to invite Silverman back to direct a production of Moominland, an eventuality he anticipated when he took the job in 2015.

"One of the first people I talked to after I found out I had the job was Leslee," Felices-Luna ays. "I had to tell her, ‘Leslee I was really excited I got this opportunity to go to MTYP,’ and that it was very important to me that we work towards bringing her back at some point.

"Now it’s actually happening, it’s been great. It’s very emotional," he says. "Having her energy back in the building, there’s that great sense of homecoming. Its emotional in a good way. I love Les, and it’s been such a joy to have her back in the building and working on this beautiful piece."

For her part, Silverman enjoys a sense of closure to the "tsunami" of her departure.

Comet in Moominland opens Friday at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Comet in Moominland opens Friday at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

"To be able to go to the rehearsal hall and be able to walk to the spot where we buried a time capsule when the building was built," she says. "To be able to say goodbye properly, to be able to do a show with the most masterful designers…

"It’s a proper goodbye," she says. "I like a proper goodbye."

 

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

 

 

 

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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History

Updated on Friday, October 12, 2018 at 8:44 AM CDT: Edited.

2:40 PM: adds quote

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