Musical Sorts Out the Craziness of Craigslist

Inheriting her grandmother’s hymn-book — stuffed with press clippings, flowers and a nuclear disarmament card from the 1960s — took Veda Hille on a journey she hadn’t anticipated.

“It was a real treasure-trove, this book,” said Hille, a Vancouver-based musician.

With no traditional church background, Hille started delving into the hymns, especially those by 18th-century British poet William Cowper and Sir Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.

“He’s astounding,” she said. “I had no idea before.”

When she decided three years ago to write a contemporary cantata with CBC Radio host and Leacock humour award-winner, Bill Richardson — who is also a hymn aficionado — it was only natural that traditional hymn forms would find their way into the piece.

The result is a 90-minute show, called Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata, which plays Nov. 14, 15 and 17 at the Yukon Arts Centre. The show enjoyed a wildly successful run when it premiered at last January’s PuSh theatre festival in Vancouver and the showing in Whitehorse next week as part of a B.C.-Yukon tour before moving on to Toronto.

The shows tells the Craigslist stories in various musical styles, from six-part harmony to full unison.

“It was Bill’s idea to do something about Craigslist, and he was quite right. It’s a rich place,” Hille said of the internet site for buying, selling and trading goods and services. “I was astounded to see how much more it is than just a posting board. It’s a posting board that comes with very elaborate stories.”

Among the compelling Craigslist posts, Richardson’s “serious spelunking” yielded a mother whose daughter compulsively beheaded her dolls and a philosophy major relinquishing her collection of 300 stuffed penguins.

“The show is very, very funny, but we could not keep out the poignant humanity if we tried,” Hille says. “In the old days, in the classified ads, you paid by the word, so everyone was really concise. But now that it’s sort of this free place, people tell you the entire history of the object and maybe quite a bit about their own lives, besides.”

While reluctant to reveal much about the show, Hille did divulge one of Richardson’s narrative devices.

“One of his ideas is comparing the postings to the dove that Noah flew off of the Ark looking for land,” she said.”He wrote a beautiful hymn for that, which I just kept as a hymn. That turned out to be a central image for the show, just people releasing doves in hope.”

Despite the poignancy of some of the stories, Hille is quick to insist that Craigslist Cantata is neither high-brow nor saccharine.

“This is easily the funniest thing I’ve ever been involved with, and I’ve done some funny stuff,” said Hille. “It’s not a slow and trying piece of theatre.”

Generally, the show’s music “goes a bit more toward a pop-y, musical theatre style,” Hille said. “But then, we’re dipping into the occasional more experimental things, because of my history. And then the hymns, because of what Bill and I are interested in.”

Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata plays the Yukon Arts Centre Nov. 14, 15 and 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32 for adults; $22 for seniors; $22 for age 12 and under; and $5 ArtRUSH for teens.

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