Stuart MacLean and The Vinyl Cafe

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WD: How did you get started as a story teller?

SM: I worked at the CBC for many years. I worked as a documentary maker. I worked as a columnist on a show called Sunday Morning and another called Morning Side, and now I work on my own show.

It was a slow process of me finding my voice as a writer, moving from one thing to another. Working for Sunday Morning I learned the technical aspects of writing and later found my voice, and with Vinyl Cafe I put those things together.

WD: You have two new stories in this new production. Can you tell me a bit about them?

SM: One is a little bit of slapstick: Dave has a misadventure when he goes to see a friend of his. The other is this year's Christmas story and it's a little more reflective of Dave walking through the woods. It goes back to being with his son and he's walking through the woods and telling his son a story of something he did when he was younger that he's not so terribly proud of.

WD: What inspired the stories?

SM: The deadline. It my job to write stories so I knew it was coming. The idea is to place things that people say, things that happen to me, things that come up: I think of the characters and what they might or might not do.

WD: What do you get a kick out of the most about writing these stories?

SM: The most fun of my job is... I don't know. I can't answer that. I was going to say the most fun is performing in the theatres, however, I don't think of myself as a story teller. I think of myself as a writer. If you told me I could only do one thing I would give up the theatres and continue writing, so I really don't know.

There are moments in the theatres when, during a performance, I leave the ground and I become wrapped up in the moment, but the same thing happens in my writing some times. I get completely absorbed in what I'm doing and I think maybe that's the most fun: those moments of absorption.

They're not really fun, because you're not aware of them when they're happening: you're absorbed. You're not the guy watching the guy on stage, you are the guy on stage. you're not the guy watching the guy at the typewriter, you are the guy at the typewriter.

I think those moments of absorption are the moments that I love and you can't ... if I knew how to make them happen I'd do it all the time. I don't though. They just happen. I put myself in the position of working and concentration and sometimes when I'm lucky they happen.

WD: Do you have a favourite story?

SM: Usually it's the story that I'm working on at the moment. It's also often my least favourite story at the same time. You have moments where you think it's just the best story you've written, and moments where you think you're ruining it or it's just not working for you.

Those are the ones that preoccupy me. The one that I'm writing or thinking about: the possible stories. The one that I've done, once they're done I kind of leave them: I don't think of them very much. Sometimes I don't even remember them all. My producer will give me a title and I'll just look at her blankly and say, “what was that one about? I don't remember.”

I think you have to empty your mind and move on to the next. If you hold on to everything you've created then you don't have room to dream about the next. I think it would be odd of me to enjoy my own work: to sit there re-reading them and think which is my favourite. It's my job, so I'm doing it so others can do that. I'm the only guy in the country who doesn't get to enjoy it really. I'm not saying I don't like it but I don't enjoy it in that way.

WD: Have you ever had a reaction from someone who thought it might have been their story you were telling?

SM: Not so much these days but in the early days people would say that it's me you're writing. There are still people who say that, “I'm Dave” or “My husband is Dave.”

WD: One of my favourite stories is the one about he man in the booth under the painting in the cafe.  

SM: That's one of my favourites. That's a good one.

WD: Your story telling technique was/is awesome and the story fantastic. I was listening to it while driving and had to pull over to the side of the road because I was laughing so hard. Where did you get the idea for that?

SM: I spent some time in a small western town (Maple Creek) where I was writing a book called Welcome Home. I met a Chinese guy named Chuck Wong, who ran a restaurant there. In talking to him I learned more about the history of Asian people in western Canada and some of the more shameful parts of our history in relation to the people we had brought over to build the railway.

I had a character already, Kenny Wong, and I realized that through him and the history of his family, could shed some light on that story in particular. A lot of it grew out of having the character and wanting to wrestle with that subject: racism and discrimination.

The changing of the painting came from something else all together. That was a little idea I'd had in my head for a long time and I just imposed that on that story.
There are a few stories that I feel good about writing, and that's one of them.

WD: Is there something you hope your audiences will take away from your show?

SM: Yes, I do but I'd be hard pressed to put it into words. It may be up to them to decide what they like.

I hope that they find meaning in it. I really don't think about that though. I'm usually thinking about the next story and how I can make it better. I hope they like it.
I hope they come and say it was really good, and I really enjoyed that, it made me feel better, it made me think, it made me wonder about something, it made me laugh.
I hope they connect to it in some way: it doesn't even have to be the way I imagine they're going to connect, just that it has meaning for them. That's what I want.
What that meaning is, is up to them to figure out.

WD: Can you tell us about the show itself?

SM: Well the music is going to be out of this world. We've got Matt Anderson who is a singer from New Brunswick who is probably one of the greatest singers I've had on the show in seventeen years.

He's a raw, powerful Blues singer with a voice like Pavarotti. And joining us is Jackie Richardson, who is awesome, who we also could argue as the best singer on the show.

So I've got two people who might be the best musicians/singers that I've ever had, so musically the show's going to be very special. I think there are going to be a couple of artist musical moments that are going to be show stopping where maybe there will be no applause because people will be so overcome by it.

I was a rehearsal the other day and Jackie sang a carrell and I had tears in my eyes. I looked over and John the piano player just looked at me and said, “I had shivers.” I think people should be prepared for a very special musical moment.

One of my stories is funny and happy but the other one I'm not sure about yet. I haven't told that one to anybody yet. I'm going to tell it this weekend and try it out and I'll know better then.

I'm feeling pretty confident about the show, but you never know. You can always hope, but until I've done it I don't know. I'm looking forward to it.
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Stuart MacLean & The Vinyl Cafe will be at the Centre for the Performing Arts Saturday November 27 and Sunday November 28.
Check The Centre for tickets.

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