December 7, 2019

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Composer Danny Schur is determined to make Strike! a Winnipeg tourism mainstay

Composer Danny Schur is determined to make Strike! a Winnipeg tourism mainstay.

Composer Danny Schur is determined to make Strike! a Winnipeg tourism mainstay.

If you saw the full-length debut of Strike! The Musical at Rainbow Stage four years ago, you should see it again because it's a vastly different show, says irrepressible local composer Danny Schur.

The script, co-written by Schur and playwright Rick Chafe, and the song lyrics have been greatly revised, he says. There are two new songs. The ending has changed.

"We believe we've worked out the bugs," says the 42-year-old dynamo. "Have you ever heard the expression, 'Musicals aren't written, they're rewritten?'

"It's just a constant, constant process, and all for the better."

If you caught Strike! in front of city hall two months ago — with a street mob, horses and a replica streetcar — you should see it indoors, Schur says, because the stage version is twice as long and much more intimate.

"Oh my gosh, it's really powerful when you're up close," he says.

Give Schur five minutes, and he'll give you another 10 reasons why you ought to experience the homegrown production about locals caught up in the internationally significant 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.

The entrepreneurial showman is remounting his two-hour, 18-song production for eight performances, tonight through Aug. 5 at the Canwest Performing Arts Centre, the home of Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP) at The Forks. The director is once again Ann Hodges.

Schur calls this the "first annual" run at The Forks. His goal is to see Strike! take hold at the national historic site and play there for years to come, becoming as integral to Winnipeg tourism as the musical Anne of Green Gables is to Prince Edward Island.

He is determined to convince the management of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that the show is a perfect tie-in with its mandate. He's using the tagline "Winnipeg's Human Rights Epic" to market the musical.

"The play is a plea for tolerance and compassion," he says. "There's no better link."

The show centres on two young lovers, Stefan and Rebecca, who face opposition because he's Catholic and she's Jewish.

The "broader human-rights picture," Schur says, deals with colonialism, immigration, discrimination, women's and workers' rights, class issues and the xenophobia that followed the First World War.

Plans call for the human rights museum, slated to open at The Forks in 2012, to include a theatre. Schur says nothing is known yet about its capacity, nor whether it will be a lecture hall or a full-scale performance space.

If Strike! can't be a fixture of the museum itself, Schur hopes it will live on at MTYP. He has already booked the theatre for another eight-show run next summer.

The version that opens tonight is less ambitious than the grand Rainbow Stage production. This one, in a much smaller venue, has local stars (Cory Wojcik as Mike Sokolowski and Erin McGrath as Rebecca), a smaller cast (10 professional actor-singers, plus a chorus of eight kids and teens) and taped music rather than a band. The replica streetcar won't appear.

Marc Devigne and Carson Nattrass reprise their roles as Stefan and O'Reilly, respectively. Well-known locals joining the cast include Ross McMillan, Gord Tanner and Arne MacPherson.

Who's coming up with the $125,000 budget?

"It's me, even more than in 2005," Schur says. "I'm personally on the line for lots more." That's why, since the day after the city hall performance in May, he says, "I've been on the phone eight to 12 hours a day. I've raised about $60,000... We've received Winnipeg Arts Council and Manitoba Arts Council grants. My personal stake is currently $30,000-ish.

"If I can sell 60 per cent of the seats, I should not come out at a loss."

For the seven years that Schur has been obsessed with Strike!, he's had the support of his wife Juliane Schaible, an MBA who is an environmental industries consultant with the province.

"There's no question that my wife is a saint," says the father of two. "She makes the steady, real money in the family. I'm the pie-in-the-sky, long-term guy."

Don't look for Schur to become any less of a dreamer — or a believer in Manitoba stories. He intends to write two more historical musicals that chime in with the Museum for Human Rights — first the Louis Riel epic, then the Nellie McClung story.

He's brimming with enthusiasm about starting the Riel project with Chafe. "It's gonna be huge," he gushes. "I could write songs right now."

But Chafe insists that the story be plotted out before a note or lyric is written.

"This is what Rick really taught me: When you're writing a musical, you can't just write the songs and then slap a story (together). The two are intrinsically connected."


Strike! The timeline

2002: Local composer Danny Schur, whose heritage is Ukrainian, develops a passionate interest in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike — particularly Ukrainian immigrant Mike Sokolowski, who was killed on Bloody Saturday. He starts writing Strike!

2003: Schur workshops the musical at the University of Winnipeg.

2004: A one-hour outdoor version draws an audience of 2,500 to Old Market Square.

2004/05: Schur is determined to bring Strike! to the professional stage, but every theatre rejects it, including the Manitoba Theatre Centre. The underdog impresario convinces 40 local backers, including Gail Asper, to invest about $310,000.

2005: The world-premiere three-week run of Strike! in Kildonan Park, budgeted at close to $700,000, draws about 14,000 people. Its investors lose $100,000.

2006: Saskatoon's Persephone Theatre presents a chamber version of Strike!

2006: A 17-minute promotional trailer is made to solicit interest in a feature-length Strike! movie.

2007: A one-hour concert version of Strike! is broadcast on CBC Radio. A book version is published by Playwrights Canada Press.

2008/09: Schur continues to tout a $10-million feature film of Strike! The 40 or so Hollywood stars he tries to interest in roles include Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, Tim McGraw, Jon Bon Jovi, Lindsay Lohan and Kevin Spacey. He says he has raised $2 million for the movie and it could shoot as soon as 2010, but landing a major star is the key.

May 2009: More than 5,000 people watch a one-hour version of Strike! in front of city hall, on the very spot where violence erupted 90 years ago.

Summer 2009: As a "prequel" to indoor performances of Strike! that open tonight, Parks Canada is offering Mike's Bloody Saturday, a one-hour theatrical walking tour written by Schur. A costumed actor portraying Sokolowski takes participants around The Forks as he "looks for work." The tour is available daily until Aug. 5, in English or French. Call 983-6757 for information.


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