• Carmen Marie Fabio

Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café visits the Hudson Village Theatre


Stuart McLean, author and host of CBC Radio’s The Vinyl Café, was in town July 14 and 15 taping a show at the Hudson Village Theatre to inaugurate the popular radio program’s upcoming 21st season.

At a point in time when the information exchange process uses primarily an instantaneous, easily accessible medium, the audience for the comparatively quaint, old-fashioned spoken-word performance has not waned. In fact, if the two sold-out appearances by one of Canada’s best-known storytellers at the Hudson Village Theatre (HVT) recently is any indication, the art of the spoken-word tale has a staying power that transcends the fickle intangibility of the electronic medium.

“I think the impulse to be told a story is as ancient as time, since people have gathered around fires,” said Stuart McLean, Canadian author and creator of ‘The Vinyl Café’ radio show who performed July 14 and 15 at the theatre. “You don’t have to teach a kid to ask that question.”

McLean’s visit to the theatre brought along the troupe of characters familiar to his listeners – used record store owner Dave, his wife Morley, and their two kids, Sam and Stephanie, and even Sam’s friend Murphy, as he recounted a tale of a road trip to transport an unexpected cargo, and another exploring Morley’s memories, experiences, and a life lesson learnt at the hands of a cooking pot, all brought to life under McLean’s cadenced narration.

The characters are derived from McLean’s imagination and have grown and matured over the last two decades both within the mind of the listening audience, and indeed in the heart of their very creator who admits to still learning about the family members, their lives, and their secrets.

“It’s like getting to know friends,” said McLean. “You make assumptions about people first and sometimes you find those assumptions are completely wrong. You get details wrong, misunderstand, and make judgements.”

McLean’s stories about the family evolve from hypothetical and imaginary situations, based both on real life experience and on non-fiction research and each peek into the family’s life can take between weeks and months of writing, and the end product is continually honed, based on audience reaction, feedback that McLean refers to as his best collaborator.

Despite the low-tech equation of the spoken-word performance delivered through a theatrical stage setting, McLean said there’s a huge range in age of audience attendees.

“There are always people in their 90s there, and there’ll be little ones as young as six years old,” he said. “Kids get it, and get carried along by the mirth and the laughter.”

His appearance at the theatre included musical accompaniment of Montreal’s Sin and Swoon playing old time country harmonies, and Hudsonite Lorne Elliott with a special lyrical composition describing the unique characteristics of all things Hudson.

McLean said he receives listener feedback on the unifying aspects of the Vinyl Café stories from families who listen from separate locales and come together to discuss the story, or from people who have listened during darker periods of their lives and drew comfort and laughter from the program.

“We define ourselves through our stories. We learn who we are. It helps us understand who we are, where we are, and what we believe in.”