In John & Waleed, John Millard (Dora Nominated) and Waleed Abdulhamid (New Pioneer Award) use stories and songs to explore the differences and similarities between their cultures. Currently on stage at Theatre Passe Muraille, the friends who grew up in Southern Ontario and the Sudan respectively, play a set-list that blends the music of their contrasting folk traditions, while riffing on the harmonies and dissonance of their upbringings.
To learn more about this musical documentary / theatre piece, John Millard and director, Marjorie Chan took the time answer a few of my questions.
HM: You each have extensive experience as a musician and as collaborator / composer in theatre shows. How did you two decide you wanted to collaborate on a piece like John & Waleed?
John Millard (JM): The idea began when we taught each other songs from our childhood as part of an artist in residence program at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Originally the idea included artists from various ethnic and social backgrounds. It turned out that Waleed and I were the only artists available to do the project. As we performed the music, stories emerged that seemed relevant to our times and interesting to audiences. In short, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
HM: Can you describe how you decided on the music / songs that are part of this show?
JM: After exploring traditional songs from our cultures, we realized that the music that really interested us as adults was more appropriate to the type of show we wanted to create.
HM: As Artistic Director at Cahoots, how did John & Waleed become a collaboration with Theatre Passe Muraille?
Marjorie Chan (MC): For Cahoots, we first encountered this piece when John & Waleed applied for Theatre Creators Reserve grant from the OAC. We knew them from the theatre scene before, but I was intrigued by the possibilities presented by these two extraordinary artists as friends and as musicians. We had performances at the Music Gallery in its first iteration in the winter of 2015. It was enormously successful, and at that time I had invited Andy McKim of Theatre Passe Muraille to attend. The piece was a bit more expansive at that time, as it was being performed in a music venue.
For this version, we have narrowed in on our themes and their relationship. Cahoots is a company with a main focus on the development of artists and works, and so we are looking to a bigger partner such as Theatre Passe Muraille to be able to expand the reach of this show. The values of the respective companies are closely aligned, but with different approaches, so as partners we are a good fit.
HM: How did you, John, and Waleed work together in deciding the direction for this show?
MC: Working with no script, no set form is very challenging as a ‘director’. I use quotes, because the job could more be defined as a facilitator and ‘shaper’. I tried to help shape the form of the piece so that they and their music could shine. It is a very collaborative process, coming up with the right feel for the order of the songs, and the resulting stories and technical elements to support them. In the beginning of the process, we did a lot of improvising and storytelling to cull and gather the stories that are relevant to the overall themes of the piece.
Over time, we have shaped them and focused them, but they are improvised every night. The order of the songs/stories stays consistent, though that has evolved as well to give maximum emotional impact to the piece. It also is a documentary piece, so it is important that there is space for the piece to stay relevant to our times. They are fantastic performers, but not actors, so it is important to give them all the tools and freedom to be their charming selves onstage. You can also read this is a write-up of the intent of the show from my perspective.
John & Waleed offers a unique perspective and engagingly personal take on cultural intersection and the melodies of our lives.
John and Waleed
Created and Performed by John Millard and Waleed Abdulhamid
Directed by Marjorie Chan
Dramaturgy by Marjorie Chan and Andy McKim
Set &Costume Design by Joanna Yu
February 16th- March 5th
Theatre Passe Muraille
Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm; Sun Matinees at 2:00pm
Tickets: $17-$38; avail online or by calling 416-504-7529