Director Robert Adetuyi is seen during the filming of Stand! The movie is based on the Canadian stage musical Strike! CNS photo/Eric Zachanowych, courtesy Danny Schur

Musical flips script, adds nuances of history

By  Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
  • January 14, 2021

WASHINGTON -- Danny Schur, a Ukrainian Catholic from Winnipeg, thought he knew all about the 1919 general strike that brought life in his native city to a standstill.

But it took another Canadian — biracial director Robert Adetuyi — to get him to stretch his perspective.

The result: A rousing stage musical, Strike! that premiered in 2005, has been transformed into the movie musical Stand! It premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and is poised to play the film festival circuit in the United States after a coronavirus-induced halt last year.

“The first phone call he has to me,” Schur said of Adetuyi, “in his gentle, learned way, he said, ‘I’m just sayin’, Dan, this is a pretty white story. Would you be opening to discovering some narrative that you haven’t put there?’ ”

Out went the Irish maid, in came Black maid Emma (Lisa Bell), with a couple of songs newly written for her character.

“I had this thing for white Irish characters, because I knew there was this white Irish component to Winnipeg’s population,” Schur said. “A week later, Robert says, ‘You know, we should really investigate this Indigenous side.’ ”

Along came Schur’s next surprise. The grounds of a former mall in Winnipeg “was a settlement meant for Métis people.”

“So close to where my ma was living was this settlement.” Métis soldiers in the Canadian armed forces “were particularly chosen for their skill as snipers” in the First World War, he said. Thus was the character of Gabriel (Gabriel Daniels), one of the many jobless Canadian army veterans, changed to an Indigenous person.

Stand! is still, at its essence, a love story wrapped around the Winnipeg general strike. Marshall Williams (Glee) and Laura Wiggins play star-crossed lovers — he a Catholic immigrant from Ukraine, which is convulsed by the Bolshevik revolution in neighbouring Russia, she a Jewish firebrand advocating for equality and social justice.

Anyone seeing Stand! might wonder whether it’s an allegory tailored to today’s roiling social and political upheavals. Schur said it’s far from the first time he has been asked that question.

“Robert, our director, said, ‘Did you guys write this right now to be representative of recent events?’ The basic arc of the story comes from (it) having been written in 2004. Robert was always amazed as if it wasn’t a comment on current U.S. politics. He finds this, coincidentally, more American than Canadian,” Schur said.

“That is just an accident of timing, but it does show you about history repeating itself. It’s also that it doesn’t change. The events of the Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd movement of 2020, the Black community has been saying for the better part of the last 100 years: ‘Look at what’s happening to us!’ ”

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