This is my fifth trip to Prince Edward Island and each time I step out of the plane (even when it was raining) I feel like I’ve come home. Intellectually I know that I am from “away” and really a tourist because I’ve only come during the months of June and August and have never really lived here, but the longer I stay here, the more I feel connected to the earth. Here I feel like I can hear myself think.
I admit, with all of the research and plotting and character work I’ve been doing, I’ve been hitting that place in the revision where I thought every word was “shite” and I often pondered throwing the entire draft in the shredder.
(Don’t worry I didn’t.) So I hoped that when I came here it would help me reconnect with it and not feel like I’m circling around bad prose. I had even tried to get a straight answer out of Maud, but she wouldn’t budge!
This time, I’m here to do try and recreate (if I can) certain things that she writes about, things that I am integrating into my narrative. Whether it is walking in the quiet dark of twilight along Cavendish road or taking the private path from the church to her homestead, I’m doing what I can to recreate for myself her experience the best I can. I even went to a service to see what it would have been like for her. As a person not of the Christian faith, I thought that this was essential for me to understand it. And while the service has certainly changed in 120 years, I think that the ambiance and feeling is part of what will hopefully keep me in integrity as I move forward with this draft. I also want to know those she knew so that they aren’t just “a cousin” or “friend.” They are people we will care about as much as she did.
I’ve been privileged to talk to a few of these experts who have taken their time to show me things off the “normal” guided tour. Yesterday I discovered where Montgomery’s friends, Mollie and Penzie, and her boyfriend, Nate Lockhart, had lived. While I was working from maps and memory, now I can feel and see where they lived. (I also got about a billion mosquito bites on the path to Mollie’s so that is something I won’t be forgetting.)
I took note of the view from Maud’s grandfather’s place to her cousins, The Campbells, and the view outside her bedroom window. I wandered the road and pondered how she would be thinking of story as she moved in and out of these places, as all writers kind of do.
Last night, I saw Anne & Gilbert The Musical (for the sixth time which I know is madness for one musical but I kind of love it and the soundtrack does not have all of the songs and so it is the only way to hear them plus I’m always curious how the most recent Gilbert will do because it harkens back to The Perfect Man research I had been doing) and it helped me rekindle some of the giddy passion that I have for this work. It helped that the chemistry between the current Anne and Gilbert is–how do I put this in PG terms?–hot.
Briefly: The musical is an adaptation of Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island, focusing specifically on the relationship between Anne & Gilbert. It is one of the better adaptations of a Montgomery work that I’ve seen because it is faithful to the ambiance of the novels and whatever creative decisions that are made make sense for the work itself but in a way that still stays authentic to the original text. And, in essence, brings things that might be sort of hinted at in the novel to the forefront, like Philippa’s awareness of her own sexuality and Anne’s feelings of insecurity around love because she’s an orphan.
The Guild is set up a lot like the Lower Ossington Theatre back in Toronto, a smaller space with the stage perpendicular to the first row of the theatre. Our seats were in the second row near the orchestra. While this sometimes meant that we heard the music more than the voices, it was still easy to forget that quirk because of the strong performances (and did I mention the chemistry between Ellen Denny who plays Anne and Patrick Cook (Gilbert)? Or right, I had above.)
Indeed, I really saw the dichotomy between small town Presbyterian ideals and the growing awareness of one’s sexuality, giving it a real modern feel. The “Maud Squad” and I are always trying to find ways to bring Montgomery into the zeitgeist, I think that this musical does an excellent job of that.
Also, the musical is really coming into its own, and I can see that they’ve been playing with the script and staging each time they do it. In previous renditions, when Gilbert goes swimming (yes, goes swimming in bathing trunks!) the actor jumped off the stage and “swam” in the audience, with Josie calling down to him. In this version, they made good use of technique I saw in the most recent production of Les Mis where part of the set is projected onto a back wall. So Gilbert swims against the back drop of a lake, which gives the whole scene an added dimension of humour.
If I didn’t have to go to research (sigh) I might even go again…Well, maybe if I do my homework I’ll reward myself…We’ll see. Or I shall just have to come back here for a reboot for my creative juices.
I still don’t know if all of my words are “shite” but at least I don’t quite feel like throwing the thing in the shredder anymore.