Bringing music theatre into a virtual world

In a year filled with challenges the Queen’s University Dan School of Drama and Music is presenting the inaugural Watershed Festival – Reimagining Music Theatre.

The first of its kind, the online celebration explores all things music theatre and brings together the worlds of opera, musical theatre, and those pushing the boundaries far beyond these traditional music boxes.

“We want to reimagine those worlds by embracing the richness of diversity, encouraging bold and innovative new work and changing the very way we think about the art form,” says Dean Burry, Watershed Artistic Director and professor in the Dan School.

The festival opens on Tuesday, May 25 with a gala book launch event When Words Sing: Seven Canadian Libretti written by Dan School Professor Julie Salverson. Salverson and Tapestry Opera Artistic Director Michael Hidetoshi Mori are joined by renowned Canadian writers George Elliott Clarke (Beatrice Chauncy), Ann-Marie MacDonald (Nigredo Hotel) and Marie Clements (Missing) who will read excerpts from their work.

The CREATE series of performances includes an evening of brand-new operas by women composers and librettists presented by Montreal’s ground-breaking Musique 3 Femmes. Musique 3 Femmes – Inside Creation is set for Wednesday, May 26. Another highlight is the New Works Showcase features three music theatre “works-in-progress”: Ursa by Jake Schindler and Sam Boer, Pulse by Kevin Skelton, Zuleyka by Afarin Mansouri and a screening of the documentary Seeds of Namwayut by Calgary Opera.

This is followed over the next several days by presentations and lightning talks by 18 eighteen of the world’s leading music theatre scholars, panel discussions with industry leaders including David Devan (Opera Philadelphia), Marion Newman (Amplified Opera) and Stafford Arima (Theatre Calgary) and intimate conversations with music critic Anne Midgette, director Tim Nelson and the author of Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies, Languages, Literatures, and Cultures Professor Dylan Robinson on Friday, May 28.

"This gathering of experts on all aspects of music theatre is going to make for a truly unique and vibrant exchange,” says Watershed Symposium Director and Dan School Professor Colleen Renihan.

The final night of the festival sees the world sneak-peek premiere of Selections from The Lancashire Lass, the upcoming suffragette musical commissioned by the Dan School and being written by renowned Canadian musical theatre creator Leslie Arden.

“I’m very much looking forward to being involved with the inaugural Watershed Festival both as a writer and as a teacher, and the opportunity to workshop my new musical with Queen’s students, particularly in the middle of this pandemic, is very much appreciated,” says Arden.

The Watershed Festival runs virtually from May 25-28, 2021. For more information and to register, explore the Festival website.