The Silver Arrow

The final show of the Citadel 2017/18 season is the World Premiere of The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood, written by Edmonton playwright Mieko Ouchi specifically for the Citadel. Daryl Cloran, Artistic Director at the Citadel Theatre, approached Mieko in 2016 about creating a new work for Citadel audiences — an adventure story for all ages.

Daryl and Mieko landed on the idea of telling a new story revolving around a classic character — Robin Hood. Daryl, who will direct the show, and Mieko have worked together to develop a theatrical adventure story full of aerial arts, singing, stage fighting, archery, romance, and more! The Silver Arrow will feature Edmontonian Kristi Hansen, an differently abled actor, in the lead role. We spoke with Daryl and Mieko in August, shortly after the play began the workshop phase, about the evolution of The Silver Arrow from an idea to reality.

Citadel Theatre: There have been countless movies, cartoons and books with a Robin Hood character. Were you familiar with Robin Hood as a child?

Mieko Ouchi: I definitely grew up with Robin Hood - Rocket Robin Hood and the books.

Daryl Cloran: And the Disney Robin Hood, with the fox as Robin Hood. I just watched that with my kids a month ago.

CT: What drew you to telling a new version of the Robin Hood story? Is there something about the character that appeals to you, something that made you think that there were more stories to tell?

DC: We started the conversation about creating an adventure story for Citadel audiences who could bring their five-year-old but that could speak to adult audiences, as well. We started by throwing around all different sorts of possibilities for stories that we could adapt or reinvent and the one that kept coming back to us was Robin Hood and looking at a reboot of what that is. We kept saying that we didn’t want to create something that was just guys in tights with British accents. What did that story mean to us or how did it speak to us? I think the thing that really catalyzed the idea for us was that Mieko started to talk about working with Kristi Hansen and who Robin Hood could be and why that character is “other” or is part of this band of outcasts – what that means.

CT: Are there certain characteristics of Robin Hood that you really wanted to bring to light in your version?

MO: For me, the story of Robin Hood – I was really searching for the relevance of it now. Why do we keep coming back to that story? But, in fact, there’s so many great parallels to what was happening in Medieval England at the time and what’s happening now, like income inequality. There’s a lot of interesting things that actually kept resonating back, so it felt like there’s a kind of universality to that character that has kept audiences coming back and will bring audiences to this show too.

CT: How much of the characters and the story did you glean from original source materials?

MO: I started by reading all the original ballads that were written about Robin Hood. I don’t think it’s quite … the story didn’t quite evolve the way we imagine it did. It started off as oral ballads that were sung, so they’re long, epic poems. And it wasn’t one story; it was a whole series of sort of episodes and adventures. I went back to read all of those to get some inspiration. Then I used that as the basis to leap off of. But it was interesting to go back to the 11th or 12th century – they are really old stories.

DC: We talked a lot about it being a steampunk retelling of the story. For us, that was the aesthetic of taking something from a particular period and reinventing it, so it has one foot still in that period, so you recognize the period, but there are sort of modern or anachronistic sensibilities that crash up against it. I often think of Baz Lurhmann’s films, like where in Moulin Rouge, clearly it is of that period but there is something very fantastical and reinvented about it. So, what we found is that Mieko spent a great deal of time researching the period and the story-telling from that period, so we had something to then jump off of.

CT: Mieko, you also spent some time in Europe recently. Was that part of your research?

MO: Yes, last month, I went over to Europe and I actually went to what’s left of Sherwood Forest. I went and visited all the towns that I set the play in and that whole area. I spent a whole day driving around that area and visiting little towns, villages and locations. And that was so interesting to see how the spaces evolve, so that little carriage track became the King’s highway and is now an A1 highway in England – and it’s still the same road; it’s just gotten a new name. So you realize how deep those roots are and you see these little remnants of that [Robin Hood] myth are still around. There’s little pubs called, you know, the Robin Hood, the Merry Men. There’s still little bits of that story that are in that area. I took a lot of photos and I hope that’s going to help the team to imagine maybe what it might have looked like – but we might take it in another direction. It’s just another source of inspiration.

CT: Who are some of the characters that the audience will recognize right away?

MO: I think the audience is going to recognize a lot of the iconic characters from the Robin Hood stories – but, with a little twist. So they might go, ‘Oh, I think that might be Little John,’ or ‘That might be Alan A Dale.’ They might not take the form that they traditionally have in the story but they are all there.

CT: The show features a strong female protagonist, as well as at least one differently abled actor. Why was it important to you to feature people that we don’t always see on stage?

DC: I’m really proud of the team that we’ve put together for The Silver Arrow. It’s a really diverse cast, both in backgrounds and abilities, and I feel like it’s a really nice representation of the many different cultures of Edmonton and of the Citadel audiences. For me, putting Kristi at the centre of this story, to have a differently abled artist as our protagonist, is really important for us as the Citadel, as the stories that we’re telling and the communities that we’re speaking to and working with. It’s also just – Kristi is amazing. Yesterday, we did a workshop at Firefly Circus, testing out some of the aerial arts. We had a few super trained aerial artists working with us and they were doing incredible, mind-blowing kinds of stuff, and Kristi, who has had only a couple of lessons so far, you could see her scamper up the rope. We were saying that ‘For part of the story, Kristi won’t have her prosthetic leg on, so I wonder how we’ll do that with the aerials?’ And Kristi just said, ‘Well, let’s see,’ and popped off her leg and climbed up the rope. It was amazing to see how physically able she is and how inspirational it will be to have a differently abled protagonist at the centre of the story, succeeding in an amazing way.

CT: And it also speaks to part of your goal to have the Citadel be inclusive and innovative.

DC: The last couple days, because we’ve been doing a lot of workshops – we just did a fight workshop, an aerial workshop, we worked with our composer – there’s been a number of times where we said ‘This show has a LOT in it.’ We’re singing, fighting, flying – it’s quite an extravaganza that requires a lot of incredibly skilled artists. So it’s innovative in that way, but it’s also really inclusive in the people that we’re working with to tell the story.

MO: As a writer, it’s always my goal to give audiences a real breadth of characters and to surprise them with some characters that they haven’t ever seen before on stage, so that was always in the back of my mind with this play because it gave us such great opportunities to bring new characters and new ideas forward about who can be in a story about Robin Hood. All the research I was doing about Medieval Europe, as well, really reminded me about what a mix of cultures it was. We sometimes think it was all very Anglo-Saxon and maybe Caucasian but when you go and research it, you realize there were so many different cultures flowing into Europe at the time – it was a real crossroads, so I hope we really captured that beautiful multicultural mix.

CT: What are some of the challenges of writing something based on a story/characters that date back centuries and have many different iterations?

MO: I think the thing about a really beloved story is that it gives the audience a shared place to start and it also gives us the opportunity to surprise them, to turn some of those ideas up on their end. That’s what I’ve loved about the story – it’s given us a chance to embrace those beloved things but also to find surprise and new things in the story.

CT: Is The Silver Arrow similar to your previous works in any way?

MO: I think this is the largest play I’ve ever written, although I have written one other large show for universities. But just the scope off all the things that we’re embracing in this show – aerial arts, stage fighting, the number of people, live music – it’s been an amazing challenge as a playwright to be given this opportunity and all the toys and to have a great director and collaborator to work with. It’s been awesome. It’s been a collaborative experience. We have a lot of great artists and great minds to come and challenge us and work on the piece with us so I’m really excited to work with the team that Daryl has built.

CT: How will training at the Banff/Citadel Professional Theatre Program benefit the cast of The Silver Arrow?

DC: To have a month of dedicated training for any artist, where they just get to work on their craft, is a pretty spectacular time, let alone that it’s in the beautiful mountains in Banff. The cast gets a month to become an ensemble together and this show is such an ensemble of storytelling, so that’s going to be great for them. It’s also going to give them a chance to work some really specific skills. They’re going to get a month to train with Firefly Circus, so that they’re building up their abilities with aerial arts. And they’re going to get a month to train with our fight director, so that they’re working on some of the really unique stage combat that’s involved. Even at the workshop that we just finished on stage combat — we left that with a real interest in some really unique combat elements that you don’t see on stage normally, so it will be a real chance for them to train in that. It really allows us to hit rehearsal in an exciting, solid spot.

CT: Will they be doing archery training?

DC: Yes, we’re going to have to figure out archery because there’s archery involved, as well. We both just shot an arrow [in the workshop]. There will be arrows flying around on stage!

MO: When you have a play whose title is The Silver Arrow and, you know, the history around Robin Hood always involves archery, so it was kind of inevitable that we were going to have to deal with archery. But it’s been so exciting. Where else are you going to see arrows shot on stage?

CT: How will being in the Maclab Theatre, where the audience is practically in the show, affect the audience’s experience?

DC: We picked that theatre on purpose because we want to immerse the audience; we want them to feel close to the action and have it all happening around them. As the aerial arts are happening, instead of it being way off on a stage up there, it feels like people are dropping right in close to them. I think, for that, it’s going to be really visceral and exciting but it also makes some challenges – where do you shoot the arrow so it doesn’t go into the audience? It comes with benefits and challenges.

CT: In addition to the aerial training that they’ll receive in Banff, are some of the cast doing aerial training ahead of the show?

DC: Yeah, of the cast of 16, we’re almost fully cast and there are at least three or four cast members who are trained aerial artists that have been at it for [many] years, so they come with a real background in aerial arts. And then some of our other cast members, who don’t have as much experience in that, will get the training in Banff. Kristi has just started training at Firefly and will be there for the next six months before we start to get into rehearsals for the show. So we’re trying to get the ball rolling on those kinds of opportunities. But we have a multi-talented cast that is made up of some specifically trained aerialists, some specifically trained actor-combatants, some trained actor-musicians, so everyone is coming in with all their skills for this show.

CT: Let’s talk about the music. How did you decide to bring Hawksley Workman on board as a composer?

DC: Mieko and I had always imagined that there would be music involved and then we started talking about what that would be and if it would be live on stage or how it would be part of the story. As we talked about musical influences and people that would excite us to work with, we both got really excited about the idea of Hawksley Workman because we love his music and because his sensibility as a musician really felt right for this production. So we reached out and he was really excited about composing for the theatre. He’s got experience in theatre because he’s toured his own one-man show, The God That Comes, but hasn’t ever composed for a show that he wasn’t going to star in so it’s a new element for him. We just had a workshop last week with him, where he really started to wrap his head around the show and how the music might work. We’ll have a band on stage that’s supporting the musicians, and the music kind of weaves its way through the show.

MO: It’s amazing to have Hawksley on board. He was so amazing to come work with us during this workshop. It was great to start to bounce ideas around and imagine how the music is going to happen. I’ve written some ideas of songs into the show, and we’re going to be working as a team to help build those together. He’s going to be working with the actors who are going to be singing and playing the music to kind of build them up as a band a little bit and explore how we’re going to play the music on stage. I think audiences are in for a real treat and I think the show isn’t just aimed at kids, it’s aimed at everybody and there’s so many appealing things for adults to come see the show, including Hawksley’s music.

CT: What else can you tell us about the show?

DC: The last few days of doing workshops have reminded me that it’s really an extravaganza. The show is going to be so kinetic and visceral and there’s going to be so much happening, with the fighting, the flying, and the singing – and the great script that Mieko has written. It’s going to be a feast for the senses and certainly an adventure story for all ages.

MO: I’m just excited to have audiences come and experience it with us. It will be amazing just to feel the energy in the room as they make the discoveries along with the characters.

CT: Normally, when you’re writing a play, I think much of it is happening in your head until it’s workshopped. And the director is usually working off of a script. But here, the two of you are kind of creating the play as you go. Is that a radical departure for both of you in terms of process?

MO: My process is usually very collaborative but I would say that this project is unusual in that the timeline is really short for my writing process. I usually write one play every three to four years, so I have quite a long writing process. With one year to write this show, I knew it was going to be a compressed process. But I think that has really been mitigated by the amazing team of Daryl and all the other collaborators. That’s really helped me to get going early and feel super inspired to get going. They’ve really helped to solve some challenges in the story and that’s really helped me move along more quickly than I usually do. So I see it as a very collaborative project but the timeline is, like … I gotta write! My friends call me to go out and I say, ‘I can’t. I’m writing! I can’t leave the house!’ There’s no shortcut to that.

DC: Usually, with a new play, there’s a draft that’s done and then you read that and you decide, okay, we’re going to program this or we’re going to workshop it and then program this. We dove in on an idea. Certainly, for the Citadel that’s new. I’ve certainly had staff members say ‘When are we going to get the script so we can start budgeting it?’ and that kind of thing. But, Mieko and I spent some time together in Banff, and Mieko was there for a few weeks writing, and by the end of that, we had a full outline for exactly what was going to play out in the story. We have a really good sense of what the story is. It’s exciting to be developing it together along the way.

CT: It’s going to be the Citadel’s 20th World Premiere. Is there a goal The Citadel has set for World Premieres?

DC: Historically, I’m not sure. For me, as part of my first season at the Citadel, I wanted to say quite loudly that the Citadel is a place for new work, Edmonton writers, and diverse voices. So having only been here for a couple of months, I knew Mieko was great and we get along really well, so we dove in. Hopefully, my goal for the Citadel is that we will be developing more and more new work, and more than one a year. So we’ll have opportunities for Edmonton writers and writers from around Canada. But I wanted to make sure that there was one in the first year. This felt like the right one.

CT: Daryl, how did you become familiar with Mieko’s work?

DC: I had seen [her play] The Red Priest years ago and read some of her other work, and then we met almost as soon as I got [to Edmonton]. I knew of her work through Concrete Theatre, as well. It felt like exactly the right mix of storytelling and ambition and understanding how to speak to younger audiences and more mature audiences, and an interest in period and stage combat, and that kind of thing.

CT: Would this fall under the category of Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA)?

DC: I’ve been describing it as an adventure story because my goal is trying to find that sweet spot – a story like The Princess Bride, where children love it but it’s totally a great night for adults, as well. I really want to bring my five-year-old to see this show but I really want it be a night where audiences can come without children because it’s so spectacular. We’re trying to hit that narrow window.

MO: Some of the other touchstones we’ve talked about are Star Wars or those things that kids love as much as their parents love. I know when I went to London and saw War Horse a few years ago – the original production – I was really struck by that element. It was a true all-ages show. There were audiences there from five to 95 years old. And I think everybody enjoyed the show. That was really inspiring. These can be written; we just have to find the right vehicle to bring everybody in, on their own level. There will be things that kids love and there will be things that adults love – and some of them will be the same things.

CT: Daryl, you made a commitment to doing this show back in December 2016. Knowing the scale of it, did you ever have moments of doubt?

DC: I have definitely have had moments – about this show and others in the season – that feel like, ‘Oh, we’re taking a big risk’ but I think that’s great. I have said now a number of times to people, that if I only get one season here as the Artistic Director, I’m going down swinging. I think that’s important. Like, Hadestown is a big risk for us but with great potential for reward. And The Silver Arrow is a big risk for us but it’s important that we’re doing this and that we’re getting behind new work, and that we’re looking at storytelling in different ways and involving different arts, like the aerial arts and that kind of thing. I’m excited but any new project always has moments of ‘Oh, this is big. How are we going to make it happen?’ but it will be brilliant.

CT: Daryl, is that part of the reason that you wanted to be the director – that you wanted to have a full stake in the play to feel accountable?

DC: Yeah, totally. I feel like, particularly because we programmed this [based] on an idea, that I don’t think it would have been fair to other people for me to say, ‘Great, now go figure that out.’ I’m responsible with Mieko to figure it out and make it happen.

The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood runs April 21 to May 13, 2018 at Citadel Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.