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"The Grub Stake Revisited": Daniel Janke's Layering of Shakespeare, Silent Film and Live Music on Tour!

"The Grub Stake Revisited": Daniel Janke's Layering of Shakespeare, Silent Film and Live Music on Tour!

May 3, 2013

This spring is an exciting one for composer Daniel Janke! His multidisciplinary project The Grub Stake Revisited has embarked on a spring tour that includes performances in Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto. Commissioned by the Yukon Film Society for a performance in February 2012, the work combines a 1923 silent film by Canadian filmmaker Nell Shipman about the gold rush with spoken text by William Shakespeare and a live performance of Janke's music. I asked Daniel Janke what inspired him to begin such an unusual and exciting combination in this project:

DJ: "I was asked about writing a score for a yet-to-be-determined silent film for a live performance. I had already recently done a project like that, and so initially declined the opportunity.

Then producer Andrew Connors came along with the 1923 Nell Shipman film "The Grub-Stake." It tells a very archetypical story about a woman in a man's world.

At the time, I was trying to make my way through the complete works of Shakespeare (I got bogged down completely in the histories!?!). But I came up with the idea of telling the same story by removing the titles from the original film, and planting the barde's words in the mouths of the silent film actors.

Nell Shipman's grand daughter Niina was very supportive. So I hooked up with two other writers (Eric Epstein and Celia McBride) and we went to work. The resulting script is really funny - full of irony. It draws from excerpts throughout the barde's work. It is both a celebration of the film maker, and for Shakespeare lovers, it is a celebration of the barde's enduring contribution.

The live performance experience is a layering of archetypes - the language of silent film with the even older language of Shakespeare. The music is a sort of contemporary glue holding it all together. I found that this layering has an effect on our perception of the tempo of the piece - it seems faster paced than it really is because it is so layered, there's a lot going on. So on subsequent drafts, I found myself cutting both music and words in order to have it breathe more.

It is very funny, but it is also very endearing. The original silent film is imbued with sincerity. The main character, played by Shipman herself, is a very beautiful modern woman who rises above oppression through her own strength of character and sense of purpose.

There is talk of yet another tour in the fall. I hope a lot of people will get to see this show."

The tour features a touring company of musicians for all the performances:
Daniel Janke - piano
Peggy Lee - cello
Andrea McColeman - marimba and percussion
Jordy Walker - guitar and banjo
Jesse Zubot - violin

Performances are coming up soon! (May 3rd in Ottawa, and May 6th in Toronto). For tickets and more information, visit The Toronto International Film Festival and The National Arts Centre.

Related Composers: Daniel Janke