The Spitfire Grill at Rosebud June 16 through September 2
Phone toll-free 1-800-267-7553 or locally at 403-677-2001
Elinor Holt set a goal for the summer of 2017. The award-winning Calgary actress, who somehow managed to marry a musician named Spider, raise three children, two dogs and still work regularly as an actress for the best part of the last three decades, wanted to find a patch of land that was spotty on the wi-fi and at the same time, a land of beauty and creative enchantment.
She had an idea where she might find both, too.
“I made it my goal to get a job at Rosebud,” Holt says, from the small town where she’s in rehearsal preparing to play a diner owner in a musical adaptation of The Spitfire Grill, which opens at the Rosebud Opera House June 16.
Over the years, Holt worked frequently at the Caravan Farm Theatre in Armstrong, BC, but this summer, with one daughter graduating from high school, sought a similar vibe – but a closer drive home to Calgary.
In the summer of 2016, doing some theatrical reconnaissance, Holt drove to Rosebud to see productions of Valley Song and its award-winning presentation of Outside Mullingar. Seeing those productions – one of which featured Heather Pattengale in a performance that won her a Calgary Theatre Critics Award as Best Actress – only made her more determined to book a Rosebud gig.
(Heather Pattengale and Rosebud Theatre School student Sarah Robertson. Photo courtesy Heather Little)
“I’d been working with more and more (in Calgary and Edmonton with) Rosebud people,” Holt says. “and I was just really impressed with the calibre of their work onstage.”
That’s been confirmed, she says, throughout her theatre network, particularly by various Alberta artistic directors who hold auditions to cast their seasons, and view hundreds and hundreds of actors from across the country.
“A number of friends of mine who are artistic directors have (also) been really impressed with the calibre of work coming out of Rosebud,” Holt says. “Trevor Schmidt, who runs Northern Lights out of Edmonton, says in particular, the (Rosebud) women – there was a few years there where no one can touch them.”
She attended the Rosebud general auditions, where she discovered that one of the shows on the 2017 lineup was The Spitfire Grill, once a loveable little indie flick that became a lovable Broadway musical – but one which Holt wasn’t familiar with.
“I looked into the musical,” Holt says, “and saw it had been a movie – and not only a movie, but a movie with (Oscar winner) Ellen Burstyn, who’s an amazing actor. When I grow up, I’d like to be Ellen Burstyn! So then I thought, whoa! This is something that could be a really good fit on a number of different levels.”
Well, spoiler alert: Holt booked the part of Hannah Ferguson, proprietor of the Spitfire Grill, a lonely Wisconsin outpost where not much happens, until one day, when a young woman named Percy – who happens to be an ex-con – shows up and loves the place, sending a reminder to the locals of the value and beauty that they have started to take for granted.
Spitfire, with a music and book by James Valcq and Fred Alley, was a well-received Broadway musical back in 2001, but in sound and spirit and theme, it feels every bit like a musical that was made for the stage at the Rosebud Opera House, Holt says.
“It’s not Crazy for You,” she says, referencing the big, brassy Gershwin musical that just closed Theatre Calgary’s 2017 season. “It does not have big musical numbers…It’s character driven, it’s story driven, there’s not the big song and dance numbers – but the story is definitely told through song and the plot advances through song, and the songs are quite beautiful. It’s more of a folk musical.”
And if there’s a more perfect setting to stage a musical that explores the theme of isolation, Holt can’t think of one.
“It’s the perfect musical for a small town,” she says, “and for this town. Right down to being set in a valley.”
(Rosebud, Alberta matches the small town in the valley featured in The Spitfire Grill, their summer musical, which runs through September 2 at the Rosebud Opera House. Photo Heather Little).
As far as her own personal experience goes, Holt has borrowed an RV from her nephew. Once school is done, the children, the musician husband (Spider) and the two dogs will all join her for a summer unlike any other.
“I definitely appreciate,” she says, “as new eyes, coming into this community, coming into a new theatre. I kind of look around, and think wow, you guys have it good – what a great place to live and work.”
Just one little drawback, if you happen to be a tweener who loves her YouTube channels.
“Don’t tell the kids they can’t get wi-fi in the trailer!” she says.
Stephen Hunt is the 2017 Rosebud Writer in Residence
(Main photo: Elinor Holt in The Spitfire Grill. Credit: Heather Little)