Remembering Stuart McLean
YLJ FILE PHOTO/CARMEN MARIE FABIO
Canadian humourist and venerable storyteller Stuart McLean, who passed away last week, had been invited to return to the tiny and much loved intimate venue of the Hudson Village Theatre.
Though Stuart McLean regularly appeared at sold-out venues with capacities of thousands of seats, it was at the intimate 148-seat Hudson Village Theatre in July, 2014, that he performed to what his producer Jess Milton later deemed, “…the best audience of the year.”
Indeed, the cozy atmosphere fostered an immediate rapport between the crowd and Canada’s most famous raconteur and it was a crack from an audience member who told McLean it wasn’t too late to address his learning disability that had Milton, sitting at stage left, doubled over in tears of laughter. And that was before the show even began.
“It started out as a suggestion from one of our board members who said, ‘Why don’t we try?’” said HVT Executive Director Kalina Skulska on landing McLean for a two-night performance. “It took us two years to convince them to come and when he saw the theatre, he really liked the venue.”
The team arrived in town a few days before the show to get a feel for the area, staying at The Willows, having lunch at Sauvé’s restaurant, and walking around speaking with the residents. Before presenting his two stories of the evening - a tale of a road trip by young Sam and his buddy Murphy to transport an unexpected cargo, and another exploring Morley’s memories, experiences, and a life lesson learnt at the hands of a cooking pot, McLean recounted childhood trips to visit Hudson from his native Montreal West and his current reflections on the town, including the easy bilingualism of the kids he’d met.
His stories were interspersed with musical performances by Montreal-based old-time country music duo Sin & Swoon, and Hudson’s own native singer, storyteller, and author, Lorne Elliott.
“We first met when he was on our ‘Madly Off in All Directions’ show,” said Elliott of McLean, succinctly summing up the memory of their intertwining careers by adding, “He was a good guy. He’ll be missed.” Though they often shared a venue, Elliott said there was never a sense of competition between them. “Art is not about competition,” Elliott said. “The fact that there are riots in the stands of soccer games and not so much at opera is one of the reasons we both got into the arts.”
The two performances sold out almost instantly but Skulska recounts theatre staff doing their best to accommodate the demand with extra plastic seating hastily assembled, though some folks still weren’t able to score the coveted tickets.
“There was some talk of having him return,” said Skulska but before the scheduling could begin last year, Milton said all bookings were on hold as McLean battled the melanoma that would ultimately claim his life last week, February 15, at age 68.
Elliott, who recently conducted a reading of one of McLean’s stories at Montreal’s Shäika Café summed up his friend’s body of work, a culmination of decades of stories following Dave and Morley, Sam and Stephanie, and an assorted menagerie of pets, friends, and visitors.
“It serves to remind us that life is short, but art is long.”