LESLEE SILVERMAN RETURNS TO DIRECT COMET IN MOOMINLAND
MTYP Founding Artistic Director Leslee Silverman directed the original production of Comet in Moominland in 1990. And now she is back to direct it again. Here’s a brief conversation with her.
Tell me how Comet in Moominland came about?
There were three of us. Graham Whitehead was director of Mermaid who did puppetry across Canada. Bill Chesney, who was resident designer at RMTC at the time, and I immediately went, “this is a person who can create a world.” One day we were all together at the end of our seasons and Bill had fallen in love with the idea of a theatre within a theatre. The Canada Council knew that we were importing a lot of European and US companies and we clamoured for the funds to develop new Canadian creations for young people. Tove Jansson, the author, would not give the rights to any theatre. We started having this gorgeous correspondence with her. At the time, we wrote her a letter and then waited to hear her answer from Finland. So began a seven year correspondence and workshop process. And the questions arose: what kind of theatre is Moominland? And we knew we could never present this on a traditional stage so we designed a theatre specifically for the show.
Did the show become what you had imagined it to be?
Way, way more. Because of the talent of the artists. Cathy Nosaty (Composer / Sound Designer), Shawn Kettner (Puppet Master), and Bill Williams (Lighting Designer) did the most exceptional work. You have to see it to understand. The lighting is integral. The actors are creating a story-universe of mythical proportions called Moominland. When I think back, we all had been feeling that there was disaster approaching for quite some time. We were looking for a way of having children experience some kind of catharsis in relation to their fear. Moomins are Tove’s form of visual language. She was interested in providing emotional relief from the impending disaster and all the things that theatre encourages from laughter to deep reflection.
The original actors were Maggie Nagle and Kim Selody (now Jennifer Lyon and David Warburton). What hasn’t changed is that the show is very humanly based. The actors connect with the audience all the way through the show. There is a dignity to the story presentation. That hasn’t changed a bit.
At that time, there was really only “cozy pie” theatre for kids. Comet in Moominland was a breakthrough for North American children’s theatre. We were on a mission to invent and to create something new. This show has a very unique sensibility.
And audiences loved it. I believe we were the first Winnipeg company to play on 42nd Street! The Artistic Director of New Victory Theatre chanced to see it and wanted it in NYC.
What do you want children to take away from this show?
I never want kids to take away anything. While they’re in the show I want them to be here now.
Here is the story that changed my life. At intermission, a boy got up out of his seat. I started watching him. He was trying to feel the edge of the screen. I’m thinking what is this kid doing? He had no idea he was watching live theatre. He thought it was a video in 4D and he was looking for a screen. I want kids to be in a living, breathing theatre, where they are immersed in an ancient and modern form for an hour.