York faculty and alumni part of the spirit of the Blyth Festival

Blyth FestivalBlyth Festival artistic director Eric Coates is big on the musical play Spirit of the Narrows. So much so, that he is bringing the work by York alumna Anne Lederman (MFA Music ‘87) back for a limited run in a second consecutive season.

Right: The Blyth Festival theatre

“I’m very excited about this,” Coates reported when announcing this season’s playbill. “After its critically-acclaimed world premiere in 2004, Spirit of the Narrows deserves a wider audience.”

The play, which opens Sept. 6 and runs daily through Sept.10, features some of the fiercest fiddling you’ve ever heard. The production, directed by Gil Garratt, co-stars Lederman, who is considered one of Canada’s folk-fiddling sensations.

Lederman launched her professional career as a fiddler in the late 1970s, and began studying and recording the music of Native and Metis fiddlers in the 1980s. Her discography includes the four-record archival set of recordings Old Native and Metis Fiddling in Manitoba. She performs throughout Canada with her ensemble, Fiddlesong.

Anne LedermanSpirit of the Narrows took seed when Lederman heard a scratchy recording of an old Métis fiddler from northern Manitoba. Her resulting play is built on a foundation of Métis fiddle music, a potent blend of Cree and Ojibwa musical traditions and the reels, jigs and waltzes that define the sound of early Canadiana.

Left: Anne Lederman

Taken for granted by the aboriginal culture and shunned by the Eurocentric culture of the time, this marvelous music came dangerously close to being lost, slipping through Canada’s cultural cracks. Thanks to Lederman, it’s been revived.

Spirit of the Narrows tells the story of how Lederman encountered this music. She plays herself, as well as various minor characters who serve as guides along her musical journey.

Another Yorkie who is playing a leading role in this revival is award-winning stage designer Shawn Kerwin, Chair of York’s Department of Theatre, who designed the set and costumes for Spirit of the Narrows.

Shawn KerwinKerwin has been involved in many memorable productions at Blyth. The festival has been the beneficiary of her talent and skills on and off since 1977, and she has been named one of the festival’s Honorary Associate Artists for her outstanding commitment.

Right: Shawn Kerwin

In addition to Spirit of the Narrows, her design credits at Blyth include this year’s production of The Gingko Tree as well as Salt Water Moon (2004), Leaving Home (2003), The Drawer Boy (2002, 2000), Goodbye Piccadilly (2002), Sometimes Never (2001), Anne (2000), That Summer (1999), Thirteen Hands (1998), There’s Nothing In The Paper (1997), Sticks and Stones (1988), and A Summer Burning (1977).

With a national reputation for mounting new Canadian plays with rural themes, the Blyth Festival is celebrating its 31st anniversary season. A measure of the theatre’s success is reflected in the York University alumni, faculty and students who have been associated with Blyth since its beginnings, and continue to contribute to the festival today.

For more information about Spirit of the Narrows, visit the Blyth Festival Web site.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.