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Love, loss and the desire to connect: Taking isolation to the theatre stage

Hacault and Walmsley will premier “Ships: Love, Loss and the Desire to Connect” for an audience at the R.H. Channing Auditorium Nov. 14

It’s less than a week from showtime and stacked away in the back of St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, Janelle Hacault and Jeremy Walmsley are busy working out the final kinks of their upcoming show.

The pair of performers will premier “Ships: Love, Loss and the Desire to Connect” for an audience at the R.H. Channing Auditorium Nov. 14. The show will hit the stage featuring both performers acting and dancing throughout, accompanied by a live band including Jesse Krause, Mark Kolt and Dean Martin.

The show is based heavily on Walmsley’s music, Hacault’s skill in contemporary dance and both performers’ experience in different disciplines. This performance covers what has likely become familiar ground for everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic - the feeling of being broken apart from friends, family and other loved ones, the sense of loneliness and longing from being kept away.

“It actually started from a conversation over COVID-19 between a lot of us like Janelle, myself, Mark Kolt, Crystal and wanting to do an artistic project kind of under the themes of loss, love, isolation, kind of stuff like that,” said Walmsley.

“We got asked to put our heads together and kind of birthed this story about that.”

“We asked ourselves, ‘what is the most relatable thing that could connect with people?’ It really was a love story between two people wanting to connect, to meet each other and missing each other until it's there,” Hacault said.

“For one scene, while we were creating it, we broke down crying because of the scene - that just pulls at our heartstrings about illness, living with illness and what that would feel like to someone, then drawing from people’s personal experience of that. It was just like, ‘this is really getting real’, which is exactly the place we want to have for the audience - not a sensational piece, but an authentic and true piece.”

Hacault has been a part of other Flin Flon pieces before, but never quite like this. Hacault first moved away from Flin Flon in 2002 - since then, she’s gone on to make a name for herself as a choreographer, modern dancer and performer, working mostly from Montreal and Winnipeg, involved in dozens of productions. The list of groups, troupes and thespians she’s worked with is a mile long and includes some from up north - Flin Flonners could easily take note of her work on Mamma Mia back when the Flin Flon Community Choir hosted the show in 2019.

While Hacault has worked on shows in her hometown before, she’s never shown anything publicly in Flin Flon that she both created and performed. That streak will end when Ships hits the stage - not only will it be her production and performance debut in her hometown, it’s first show of its kind, developed and produced entirely in Flin Flon by experienced professionals, in the community’s history.

“Other times, I've just been sort of commissioned to be the choreographer - it's like highlighting other people. It's always been kind of out of my world, so I don't know how it would match up,” she said.

Coming back home for the show brings a level of comfort for Hacault, who said finding collaborators and help was particularly intuitive.

“For me being from here, but having built a career elsewhere, it's so nice to come back. I feel very honoured that out of all the productions that have happened in Flin Flon, Mark [Kolt] actually informed us that this is the first fully professional [show] that is being created here, but is also being performed here,” she said.

“I just feel really touched that I can come home to a place where I feel at home to create something that's really personal and to kind of workshop. It feels safe, but also, it's really pushing me artistically.”

Walmsley brings with him a pedigree of film acting and music, playing roles in a number of television series, short films, miniseries and a few movies to go with a budding career as a recording artist. It was his music that helped inspire the production - like Hacault, Walmsley is a Manitoban who headed east to chase artistic ambitions, but who came back to his home province for this project.

“It’s really the backbone - it’s the foundation which we sort of built from, his songs,” said Hacault.

“We asked ourselves what could be these characters’ journeys, why this was important to say. We created the character, the arc of the story, some scenes, some images we were working with.”

Few hands are part of the actual production and the creative control ultimately rests with both Walmsley and Hacault. That creative control has led to a ton of work for the performers, especially as the premiere day comes.

“We’re doing 10 positions each,” said Walmsley.

“It’s very difficult, but really awesome and rewarding as a job. It’s challenging of course, but it’s super rewarding and it becomes really personal. It’s nice that you have all this control, but it’s quite an epic feat.”

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