Musicians perform Daniel Jankey’s new score for the The Grub-Stake Revisited in Vancouver at the Vogue Theatre. The Yukon Arts Centre presents a live showing on April 29
The Yukon Film Society (YFS) is taking it’s production The Grub-Stake Revisited on tour in early May as part of Northern Scene at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre (NAC). Besides the NAC performance, where the show shares the spotlight with the largest contingent of northern artists ever assembled outside the North, it will also travel to Calgary and Toronto, where it will show at the Toronto International Film Festival’s new Bell Lightbox Theatre.
The Grub-Stake is a 1923 silent film directed by Canadian filmmaker Nell Shipman. She was a rarity of her era — a vibrant, feminist independent filmmaker with a mind of her own.
Born in Victoria, she moved to Hollywood, but returned to Canada in 1919 to shoot Back To God’s Country, an action melodrama set in northern Alberta, which has the distinction of being the first English-language Canadian feature, and also the most successful. Its 300 per cent return on investment has yet to be duplicated by another Canadian film, and it was also notable for one of the first full-frontal nude scenes in film history.
The Grub-Stake was less successful for Shipman, and was never released in wide distribution. Set in the Klondike, it tells the story of a young woman who was lured to the Yukon by a sweet-talking gambler who promised to marry her and set her up with a grubstake for a gold mine.
However, once she arrives in Dawson City, accompanied by her ailing father, she finds that the gambler is scheming to sell her to a dance hall. Turning the tables on him, she sets out with his dogsled and supplies, along with her father and an old miner they’d met, to find a lost gold claim the miner had been searching for.
Producer Andy Connors talks about how the idea for mounting The Grub-Stake Revisited originated.
“Daniel (Janke) and I had talked a number of times about having a silent film with a new music score, and for YFS to commission him to do that,” he says. “I was inspired by what Guy Madden did two years ago, for the Prairie Scene at the National Arts Centre. It was a reworking of Tales from The Gimli Hospital, and they had a quartet of musicians from Iceland they brought in to do the music live, and a narrator, narrating the film live, and then they had a foley artist as well, doing effects live.
Connors pitched Shipman’s film as the basis for the project, and Janke, who is the production’s artistic director, offered to write a new score and script.
“Daniel realized he still wanted to do the script, but didn’t have time to write a wholly original script, and had the brainwave to pull from the works of Shakespeare,” Connors says.
But maintaining the integrity of the original work was essential.
“For the most part, we tried to honour the original story that Nell wrote,” he says. “It’s very complementary to that story, and works in concert with the text.”
Celia McBride, Eric Epstein and Janke each took one 25-minute act of the film, and looked through the Bard’s complete works, matching dialogue to the on-screen action. The adaptation was ready within a month.
Six Yukon actors voice the film’s Shakespearean dialogue live, accompanied musically by the five-piece Longest Night Ensemble.
The Grub-Stake Revisited Spring Tour will open at Calgary’s Plaza Theatre on May 1, followed by its Ottawa performance on May 3, and then will play the Toronto International Film Festival’s Bell Lightbox Theatre on May 6 and 7.
Whitehorse audiences will have one more chance to see The Grub-Stake Revisited before it goes on tour at a special live showing on Monday, April 29 at 8 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre, complete with actors and musical score.