In her twenties, Beverley Elliott shocked her family and friends by turning her back on a fast-track secretarial career and opting to become a singer and actor. They didn’t expect that.
Jump ahead a few years and she is a veteran of Canadian stage and screen with such international profile roles as Granny on the locally shot ABC hit series Once Upon a Time, and the crusty nanny in the Hallmark movie Man Maid. Toss four CDs and an award-winning theatre resume for hits such as Mom’s the Word and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants into the mix, and Elliott has stories to tell and songs to sing.
Which is exactly what she does in her show ...didn’t see that coming, which opens at the Gateway Theatre next week.
“I did a one-woman show back in the eighties at the Women in View festival and always wanted to do another one,” she says. “My favourite thing has always been telling stories to set up a song and then singing it and always had the idea to put together a show tying in assorted monologues and songs from pivotal moments my life to tell an overall story.”
Working with the Wet Ink Collective writing group helmed by Kerry Sandomirsky, she began to connect various key points in her personal history together into solid sections. Some of the pieces were road-tested in the Flame Storytelling Series and went over really well. Jump ahead seven years and ...didn’t see that coming is the result.
“The stories are autobiographical but the core is things that all of us can relate to,” she says. “And the concept is that these are those epiphany moments which more often than not happen when you randomly meet up with a stranger and have your heart opened, expanded and changed. I think we could all write those moments down and have it resonate with an audience.”
Not a “and then this happened and then this did” narratve line, she looks at the universe from a personal lens. Beginning with an eye-opening sleepover at age 11 where she and a friend go to see the Guess Who and the smalltown, super conservative farm girl from Listowel, Ont., gets rocked.
“Oh, my world is blown wide open, completely opened up and I realize there is another life out there for me,” she says. “It was so different world then, where you lived with only local radio, two TV stations and local news. My daughter is that age now and so worldly and sophisticated by comparison I can’t even describe it.”
She does her best to describe her “life training” through the monologues which touch upon the collective experiences of many people who spent their youth in the pre-digital planet. From earning her keep working six nights a week hoofiing it in the then-fertile Vancouver bar scene to back alley theatres, the late eighties were a lost era in an increasingly condo-and-sports bar city.
“Oh Lord, I was playing everywhere from the JR Country Club to gay bars to Hastings strip lounges and the work was there for a lot of us, although its hard to imagine today,” she says. “It was all cover band stuff, but great experience and really covered everything from classics to what was on the charts at the time. Because I’ve always been a singer, the cabaret approach to this really was familiar, only now there isn’t a band behind me going, ‘Hurry up and do the song already.’”Naturally, the set for ...didn’t see that coming includes all the bells, whistles and special effects you would have seen in the busy club scene.
“Oh yeah, loads of costume changes, a big catwalk and I come down from the ceiling in a gilded cage a la Taylor Swift,” says Elliott. “Or perhaps I have a piano player, Bill Costin, and a microphone and one black chair. This is Kerry Sandomirsky’s directoral debut and she has done a fantastic job and I love how she sees the world and makes it.”
Sandomirsky cut Elliott’s four and half hours of material down to 75 concise minutes and Elliott says its just the best of the best in terms of the original monologues and songs. With 28 performances under her belt, ...didn’t see that coming has changed. The version playing at the Gateway benefits from extended runs at the Edmonton Fringe Festval.
“It’s a lot tighter and we found those other places where that alchemy is, so it is funnier, it’s more emotional and I am happier with it,” she says. “And nothing improves a piece like the performer feeling it working. Of course, it’s always down to energy; what you ate, how much sleep you had, the fit of your costume and the place you find within that very night.”
Live stage, unlike TV and film, doesn’t give you a second take. Elliott says that is one of the messages of the show, too. Take what you get and learn from it as you journey on.