Fessenden Steampunk Revue making radio waves in Hudson


PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Clockmaster Productions’ performance of Fessenden Follies at the Hudson Village Theatre is based on the story of Canadian inventor Reginald Aubrey and is presented as a live radio broadcast to the audience who are invited to attend dressed in steampunk style.

The World Premiere of Canadian playwright David Fennario’s ‘Fessenden Follies’ is scheduled to open at Hudson Village Theatre on Thursday, November 8. The play, presented as a Steampunk Revue, focuses on the story of Canadian inventor Reginald Aubrey Fessenden who successfully transmitted the human voice wirelessly for the first time on December 23, 1900 at Cobb Island, Maryland. Fessenden, born in 1866 in Quebec’s Eastern townships, exhibited a strong interest in mathematics at an early age and conducted experiments that astonished his family and friends.

Steampunk Theatre

“It’s set in the early 1900s,” said Glen Robinson who is directing the play for Clockmaster Productions. “Steampunk theatre is often history being retold and that’s what we are doing with this play. Most people believe Marconi invented the radio.” Fessenden also perfected a new means of sending Morse code more effectively than Marconi. During World War I, he developed an echo sounder used by Allied ships to locate enemy submarines. Radio flourished after the war but Fessenden had to resort to litigation to prove ownership of his concepts and inventions. In the end, he gave up the battle and sold the rights to Marconi.

Audience participation

“The production is set as a live radio play,” said Robinson. “It’s not your typical musical.” There is a music group onstage throughout the evening accompanying the choreography and singing. “We are trying to recreate the transition from live entertainment to radio shows. That’s why we want the audience to participate, to make it like a live broadcast with a studio audience,” said Robinson.

Audience members are encouraged to dress in steampunk style and will be asked to participate in some of the sound effects.

PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Sporting costumes created by local textile and visual artist Tina Struthers, some cast members gave The Journal a sneak preview of a Sunday evening rehearsal.

Robinson has a long career in theatre and has worked with Fennario since the early 1970s. “I directed his play Joe Beef and a recent production of Balconville,” said Robinson. It was the latter production at Hudson Village Theatre that prompted Fennario to choose the location for the premiere of Fessenden Follies.

“All of the cast are from the Hudson, Saint-Lazare, Rigaud and Vaudreuil-Dorion area,” he added, “So, it’s conveniently located.”

The theremin

The five-member band comprised of Mark Smith, Geoffrey Mitchell, Cai Mitchell, Seiji Guttierez and Musical Director JP Vialard perform on violin, guitar, bass ukulele, drums and the less traditional theremin. The theremin was created by Russian inventor Léon Theremin in 1920 and was patented in 1928. It is an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the performer. “It basically was invented in the same time period, so it seemed appropriate to play one,” said Vialard before a rehearsal on Sunday, October 28. The performer, or thereminist, controls the oscillator for frequency with one hand and the amplitude or volume with the other. The electric signals are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker and the resulting sound is an eerily electronic howl, almost akin to a human voice.

Background

Playwright David Fennario was born David Wiper in 1947 in Montreal and raised in the district of Pointe-Saint-Charles. His pen name, given to him by a former girlfriend, came from a Bob Dylan song “Pretty Peggy-O.” At the height of his popularity with the Montreal Anglophone scene, Fennario maintained his Marxist politics and worked to bring working class problems to public attention. His relationship with professional theatre suffered a serious break when he picketed the Place des Arts revival of Balconville in support of the unionized ushers in the hall. Eventually, Fennario broke away from the mainstream scene and began working in community theatre.

The first production of Fessenden’s Follies was an adapted version as a radio play commemorating the 100th Anniversary in 2006 of the invention of radio by Fessenden in 1906. The radio production was broadcast on December 23 and 24, 2006 over 37 community radio stations in Canada, the United States and Scotland.

The premiere stage production at Hudson Village Theatre runs until Sunday, November 18. For further information and tickets, visit www.villagetheatre.ca or www.clockmaster.ca.

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