Web only: A rare Sunday night treat

 

Canadian show comes to Indy

 

The Vinyl Café Fall Tour 2008

Sunday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.

Hilbert Circle Theatre

Tickets: 317-639-4300 or 800-366-8457 or www.indianapolissymphony.org

Stuart McLean has worked south of the border fewer than 10 times, so we’re in for a rare treat Sunday night when the creator and host of the Canadian radio show “The Vinyl Café” brings his stories to the Hilbert Circle Theatre.

The two and a half hour stage show is an extended version of his radio program, which can be heard at 8 p.m. Saturdays on WFYI-FM (90.1). Each week, he spins one new wonderful little yarn about Dave, the owner of a small record store, his wife, Morley, their children, Stephanie and Sam, and their circle of friends and neighbors. He fills the rest of the hour with essays, music and other odds and ends.

The audience for the live show gets much more: two brand-new Dave and Morley stories and one greatest hit, music (singer-songwriter Danny Michel, who McLean compares with There Goes Rhymin’ Simon-era Paul Simon, and Dala, a female duo noted for its harmonies), audience participation, a slide show and more.

“It’s a family-friendly show,” McLean said in an interview last week. “People bring their parents and bring their children with the understanding that they won’t be uncomfortable. Every show has children 5 years old, 6 years old and someone in their 90s. They all seem to take it on their own level, which is something I’m pleased about. It makes me happy that people come together and gather up around the show.”

In the interview, McLean talked about the live show, the radio show (which debuted in Indianapolis on Dec. 31, 2005, after 10-plus years in Canada), the growth of his characters over the years, the recent Canadian elections, and the annual Arthur awards, which he distributes to people who’ve done good deeds large and small.

NUVO: Have you done many shows south of the border?

McLean: The first [U.S.] concert we did was in Seattle — KUOW was the first station in America to start running us. We had a magnificent time there. We sold out a theater of 900 or 1,200 seats. They gave us an overwhelming welcome. We went back there a few weeks ago and had about 2,000 people there. And last year, we also did a show in Fargo, N.D. This season, we’re doing six concerts in the States. It’s something that’s slowly growing and expanding in America.

NUVO: What’s new with Dave and Morley?

McLean: Things are always changing for Dave and Morley, and so are they. Stephanie has left home. Dave and Morley have older, aging parents. They’re coping with things everyone has to cope with as the years march on.

Years ago, when I first began the series, I wrote them so they remained fixed in time. I didn’t age them for the first couple of years because I thought I’d chosen their ages at the perfect state. They were parents of a young girl who hadn’t quite entered the turmoil of adolescence and they’d had a little boy who was still little and still had the magic innocence of boyhood. After a while, I started to wonder: Were they going to age? I wrestled with that quite a lot and finally decided — it was a leap of faith, really — that if I didn’t age them, I was going to become bored with them. I would exhaust everything I had to say.

I took my cues from Garry Trudeau, who writes the “Doonesbury” comic strip. I remember he had all his characters locked in time for more than a decade, then he took a year off and came back and they had all aged a decade. And he has continued aging them ever since, which means the strip is still relevant and vibrant and alive and has things to say about today. I compared that to “Dagwood” and “Peanuts,” which, after a period of brilliance, lose their vitality because they’re not moving through time.

NUVO: When Garry Trudeau did that, I remember him saying that it was time for his characters to graduate into the world of grown-up concerns.

McLean: And it worked for him. For me, it was just keeping them alive. I’ve grown very attached to these people. I don’t feel like I know them, but I feel like they’re friends — like they are part of me, in a funny way. My life is tied up with their lives.

NUVO: I listened to you give out the Arthur awards a couple of weeks ago and I was welling up at times over some of those stories. Was that a typical episode?

McLean: That was our fourth annual Arthur show. It was a totally typical show, and every year there’s something that grabs at my emotions the way something grabbed at yours. E.B. White, the great American humorist, in writing about humor in a brilliant essay, said if you’re interested in your reputation as a writer, you shouldn’t write humor. We award our serious writers with laurels and our humorists with Brussels sprouts. But he goes on to say that humor, unlike serious writing, has an added dimension that can take you to a place where you can’t trust your emotions — that place where laughter and tears meet.

When I can take people to that place where laughter and tears meet, I feel like I am doing my best work. Now, the Arthurs aren’t writing, but that show comes close to doing that.

NUVO: There were times when you called people on that show to notify them about their award and the phone rang four or five times before they answered. Did you know whether they would be home?

McLean: No. One of the most famous episodes of “The Vinyl Café” from years ago is, we have a Christmas contest every year where we fly the winner in for our Christmas show. We had a winner one year and we called and it was busy. We got an operator on the line and asked her to break in on the phone call. She said, “We’re not allowed to do that.” She had the idea we should send them a pizza and tell them to get off the phone. They were in some small town in New Brunswick. We had this merry chase on the show for about 45 minutes, which was quite hilarious and quite wonderful.

NUVO: The Canadian election last week — did it come out the way you wanted?

McLean: I don’t usually express my political point of view in public. Did it come out the way I wanted? It didn’t come out the way I voted. My party I supported this time didn’t win. I’ve had my fair share of victories and my fair share of defeats, and we’ll muddle through.

NUVO: Arts funding was such an issue in Canada in this election and it’s an issue here in Indianapolis, where the mayor cut about half a million dollars from the arts budget.

McLean: Interestingly, [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper, who’s a conservative, who won the election, probably forfeited his potential majority (in the Parliament) because of arts cuts. If he were going to get a majority, he would have gotten it from voters in the province of Quebec. The arts cuts played real bad in Quebec. He had been showing pretty substantial gains in Quebec and when he did the arts cuts, it totally turned around on him. So it didn’t serve him very well to cut the arts.

 

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