Quills Quotes & Notes: Articles and Stories by Rosemary Phillips

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Sylvia Friesen - Show Designer - Songs Strings & Steps

"A Christmas Tale"

An interview with Sylvia Friesen by Rosemary Phillips, December 2011

Sylvia Friesen
A Christmas Tale
Show design
Mission Impossible video - Watch it!
The complete package
Sylvia the storyteller
The 12 Days AFTER Christmas video
Christmas is for the heart
Links to more information

Since its first show eleven years ago, Songs Strings & Steps has grown, flourished and has continuously sold out. Full-house audiences have feasted on thrilling music, creative originality, excitement, and most of all – brilliant local talent. In fact, Songs Strings & Steps has fast become an Abbotsford tradition.

A Christmas Tale

Their presentation of ‘A Christmas Tale’ on December 20 and 21, 2011, at Central Heights Church in Abbotsford was the biggest production yet for director/conductor Calvin Dyck, designer/choreographer Sylvia Friesen and their team of dedicated volunteers.

Poster for A Christmas Tale

“The theme and show design for ‘A Christmas Tale’ all started when Calvin found some fresh and energetic Christmas arrangements from the fiddle group Barrage,” explains Sylvia. “I researched the history of one song and from that came the story about a young boy of five who was exiled from Russia to Germany, was later forced into the army during WWII then wounded in France. At Christmas, while he was a prisoner of war (POW), he saw children walking through the streets singing traditional French Christmas songs, ones that are part of our show. I thought there must be more such stories. I asked a number of people in Abbotsford and got all kinds of wonderful tales about wanderings and journeys. And music is the thread that binds them all together!”

Show Design

From these tales Sylvia has designed a show full of colour, costumes, drama, excitement and definitely surprises, all complementing and dramatizing the various pieces of music. “Calvin has to have surprises,” laughed Sylvia. “These make for an engaging show. I’m not going to give away what they are... that’s part of the fun of it all!”

Mission Impossible SS&S video

(The following YouTube video - Mission Impossible - is from an earlier 2008 Songs Strings and Steps. Watch out for the - surprise!)

The complete package

Sylvia is a master at designing the complete package, the entire show. “It’s about connecting all the senses in one experience,” she added, “through the power and stimulation of the arts - the emotional, physical and spiritual senses.”

Sylvia Friesen
Sylvia Friesen dreaming up a storyline
For each Songs Strings & Steps show, after working the music and theme through with Calvin, she has written the scripts, designed the visuals, costumes, props, choreography and blocking of performers and provided whatever creative elements are needed to pull it all together. “Calvin is so wonderful to work with. We have a great team that brings all the ideas into reality. I get busy like crazy yet I am not administrative (can't even keep my desk clean). Both Calvin and I need someone to balance our flights of creativity with practical organization. This is where his wife Heather comes in. She fulfills a very important role, making sure we meet our deadlines. She is amazing.”

Sylvia the storyteller

Sylvia comes from a background rooted deeply in theatre. “I designed my first show when I was eight years old. It was a roller-skating show. My brother played the accordion and I had all three brothers playing all the characters. I invited all the neighbours to come and sit in the driveway, charged them all a nickel and got my mum to make popcorn. I’ve been doing shows ever since!” Sylvia is a storyteller. “You use whatever medium you have access to. Music was huge in my family, and I have done lots of dance and theatre. So that is the medium I use to tell the story.”

And then one day... “My daughter was playing in Calvin’s Abbotsford Youth Orchestra and he had seen some of my previous work. He asked if I could do something for the AYO and that’s how Songs Strings & Steps began.”

The 12 Days AFTER Christmas 2009 video

(The following YouTube video of Twelve Days AFTER Christmas is from the Songs Strings & Steps 2009 Christmas concert.)

Christmas is for the heart

For both Sylvia and Calvin, Christmas is for the heart. “That’s what gives us the passion to keep going. Christmas is a time of light and new life and birth. There’s hope. There’s a common denominator for humankind, for all faiths – we are all looking for something bigger than ourselves. And it’s our heart’s cry – to make a difference!”

And making a difference is what Sylvia does, with every detail, right down to the refreshments at intermission. “This year we are trying to copy some of the recipes that go with the stories.”

And Sylvia has woven a thread that joins all the tales and talent together, from the AYO and their dancing violin group, to the Pacific Mennonite Children’s Choir, Father’s Daughter, iSing, the international piano duo Mel Bowker and Johannes Weber, and dancer Charlene Hart. There are moments of laughter, moments of tears, audience participation and contributions, costumes, characters and of course, the wonderful music – it’s ‘A Christmas Tale’.

Links and more information

For more information visit the interview article on this site with producer and director Calvin Dyck and visit Calvin’s web site.


Copyright Rosemary Phillips, Quills Quotes & Notes Enterprises, 2012
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