As an official media partner of the 12th annual St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, Montreal Theatre Hub brings the #FringeBuzz in 2021 with an all-new interview series with artists from this year’s edition of the fest! In this Snapshot, we feature ALLIE WEIGH of Allie Weigh Productions. After presenting Allie Weigh’s Inn in 2015 and Divided Heart in 2017, her company is back at the Montreal Fringe with the Choral Poetry Project, a live performance for which she provides the music and one of the five featured works of poetry. Read our Q&A interview with the veteran Fringe artist in anticipation of her show’s premiere from June 10-20 at the MainLine Theatre.
MONTREAL THEATRE HUB: What is the “Choral Poetry Project“?
ALLIE: Choral Poetry Project is a poetry and music show—featuring the poems of five women, and the original choral compositions sung by five women—-interspersed with sax, flute and percussion. The themes in the poems are about connection, alienation, nature, loss, birth, letting go and being yourself.
MTH: What can audiences expect from the experience of seeing it?
ALLIE: The small masked audience (max 19 people) can expect to hear high quality upper vocals in complex harmonic and rhythmic lines, and they can also expect a kind of deeper meditation on the texts, as each one is featured in spoken form before it is presented musically. I hope people will feel nourished and energized by being there. It is shorter than most concerts—only 40 minutes long. I am quite certain that it will all be done before we know it! I am very curious about what the audience members will feel and experience.
The artists of the Choral Poetry Project: Elvi Dalgaard, Samantha Lo Monaco, Luc Jason Murphy, Allie Weigh, Melanie Kerridge, Avery Gietz (Photographer: Luc Jason Murphy)
MTH: What was the idea and inspiration behind the piece?
ALLIE: I became a choral composer by accident in 2017, at the age of 48. I was directing a group of singers in a play by Scapegoat Carnival Theatre. We were singing original music by Brian Lipson. The singers loved it and so did I. We had the idea of commissioning him to write a piece for Choeur Maha. I was in charge of communicating with him. I realized as I was preparing to give him instructions, that I was actually composing the piece myself. That first piece turned out to be “Clearing“, a choral setting of Martha Postlethwaite’s poem and it is now heard all around the world by people who love her poem about meditation. Choeur Maha performed the piece in May 2018. I never stopped composing and have a dozen or more pieces so far and many more in the works.
During the pandemic, I was determined to create and put some music out into the world. To that end, I safely gathered a few singers outside, and individually in my home studio, a few times, towards making video of choral works. It was a joyful thing to do in the context of live choir rehearsals shutting down. In our most recent experience filming in the alleyways and parks of the Plateau, we experienced the happiness our project brought to the pandemic-weary passersby. This inspired me to put my name in the hat for Fringe this year. To my great surprise, I got a spot and immediately had four volunteers to join me in prepping this show. In addition to this, my own life partner, multi-instrumentalist Luc Jason Murphy, is not on tour as he normally would be, and so he is actually available to work with us as well. It is all such a privilege.
(Photographer: Luc Jason Murphy)
MTH: Why did you choose the Fringe as the place to premiere this work?
ALLIE: Fringe is just so open and varied and fabulous and democratic and they provide a platform for experiments. This is actually an experiment in many ways—-namely, how will compositions meant for 16 or more singers sound with only 5? How will it feel to have a small, spread-out, and masked audience to sing for in month 16 of a global pandemic? We are curious to find out —-and Fringe makes it easy to do so—-as long as you are lucky enough to get a spot!
MTH: What has it been like trying to create a show during a pandemic?
ALLIE: We watch the weather reports like hawks—we have discovered and experimented with various outdoor acoustics from my yard which has trees, to under the roof at the big church on Rachel, to alleyways which give some desired reverb, to public gazebos when it is raining. I also would have preferred to have a whole choir with me but could not because of the pandemic. I chose 4 singer-friends who are choristers and soloists.
MTH: What’s kept you driven to keep creating during this past year?
ALLIE: I was enjoying composing so much and I just needed to think about ways to make music safely with others. And I guess the making of videos is about sharing our joy of singing together with a larger audience, safe in their homes, with access to YouTube.
MTH: How does it feel to be back presenting on a live stage?
ALLIE: I am so looking forward to singing in a room with others and to feel the presence of the audience. There is something so energetic and vibrational that goes on in a live concert—-and something especially intimate and personal about the voice.
MTH: How does this show/story speak to our present times?
ALLIE: The fact that we are such a small group speaks to the pandemic restrictions. The fact that my normally busy amazing musician partner is with us is because of the pandemic grounding all his tours. The show itself is quite introspective and reflective and the poems contain themes which are relevant to what we have all been grappling with this year—-our relationship to nature, to letting go, discovering ourselves in new ways, and to finding new ways to connect.
(Photographer: Luc Jason Murphy)
RAPID FIRE ROUND
What have you missed most about the Fringe?
Walking over to fringe park and having a beer and enjoying the vibe of super charged-up humans who have just seen live shows, and the outdoor concerts.
Favourite Fringe show you’ve ever seen?
All of jem rolls’ poetry shows impress me—I have also deeply loved Nisha Coleman, Cat Kidd, Gina Granter and Al Lafrance’s solo shows.
#Fringebuzz: which show(s) on the 2021 lineup are you most stoked to check out?
“Alright: Solving the Problem of Living” by Nisha Coleman, Qui Dit Vain’s “Comme bannir son dard en 5 étapes faciles” and I will be listening for other recommendations as the festival progresses.
Allie Weigh has been singing in choirs for 47 years. Her mother and grandmother were choir directors. She plays violin, has written and performed solo shows for Fringe Festivals, and composes music for voices, and strings (notably in her work on a webseries about love and depression www.beddin.org). Over the last 20 years, she has sung in the St James United Church Choir, the CBC Radio Concert Choir, Musica Orbium, Chœur Maha, Ensemble Da Capo and Ensemble Kô. She is beyond grateful that, since 2017, she has always had wonderful people willing to sing her choral compositions.
Choral Poetry Project presented by Allie Weigh Productions plays from June 10-20 at the MainLine Theatre (3997 St-Laurent Boulevard). Tickets ($12.50) can be purchased online at www.montrealfringe.ca.
Read here all of the interviews in the Fringe Artist Snapshots series: