Not your ordinary law professor
Dr. Bryan Schwartz’s original musical “Consoulation” premieres this month at Gas Station Theatre
Dr. Bryan Schwartz, Professor at the University of Manitoba’s Robson Hall Faculty of Law who teaches Labour, Internet and Legislative Process law among other courses, holds the endowed Asper Chair of International Business and Trade Law, has authored or edited dozens of volumes and over a hundred academic articles, still does some legal practice (including appearances at the Supreme Court of Canada) and domestic and international arbitration, advises governments and organizes an annual international learning program for Canadian law students – has written a musical.
“There was no possible way I could have actually done this,” said Schwartz, before wandering off to discuss the nuances of the latest episode of Rick and Morty with a colleague.
Humour like this, so dry it leaves one’s face cracked and lined like a Winnipeg winter, can fairly be anticipated from Dr. Bryan Schwartz’s first musical, “Consoulation: A Musical Meditation,” experiencing its world premiere April 23, 24, 26, 27 at the Gas Station Theatre.
At the same time, the heart of the musical’s substance is a serious matter. While pursuing his graduate studies in law at Yale in 1978, Schwartz recalled seeing a performance by Yale theatre students of Belgian Songwriter Jacques Brel’s songs a few days after the “Master of the Chanson” died. Schwartz said he was so struck with the audience’s emotional reaction to the performance that he wondered if if he could write something that moving.
A story about a middle-aged Jewish man who has just lost his father, “Consoulation” is about dealing with grief; “faith versus realism, and the consolation of art,” Schwartz explained. The main character is not a lawyer – his occupation is not revealed, said Schwartz. Rather, the story is about his preoccupations.
Writing the musical being one of his own preoccupations, Schwartz told no one about this project. “I try not to tell people what I’m doing ‘til I’ve done it” he said.
Schwartz started kicking around the idea for Consoulation long ago, but worked on it in earnest about eight years ago when he workshopped it with Ross McMillan, a Winnipeg playwright, director and actor who was a lead in Guy Maddin’s film The Saddest Music in the World. “I am grateful that Ross believed in the show from the beginning,” said Schwartz. McMillan who directs the show, helped assemble the cast which includes Winnipeg actors and singers Tom Anniko, Katy Hedalen, Kevin Klassen and Simon Miron. The musical director is Rick Boughton, a renowned Winnipeg musician, who has brought together an ensemble of keyboards, winds and strings, and arranged the score from Schwartz’s piano-created compositions.
Schwartz is thankful to George Toles, Distinguished Professor and Film Chair in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Arts Department of English, Theatre, Film and Media (and Maddin’s co-writer on Saddest Music) who “has provided me with some great insights and suggestions along the way.”
Writing the play and song lyrics had some links to his other vocations, said Schwartz. “Lawyers and law professors try to be attuned to the nuance of languages,” he explained. “In a well written lyric, every single word, every variation in words, should be there for a reason. Better still, many reasons.”
“Another dimension of the interconnection is that both as an academic and a composer I try to explore is the interaction between ancient traditions and modern life,” said Schwartz, who will be introducing a new course next fall on Indigenous Peoples, Oral History and the Law. “For four decades, I have been writing, among other things, about Indigenous issues and often acting as an advocate in cases involving the legal recognition of traditions from time immemorial,” said Schwartz, whose own preoccupations with ancient traditions of peoples manifest in the international “Mishpatim” program he runs each year in Jerusalem for Canadian Law students, the official title for which is “Ancient Peoples and Newcomers in the Start-up Nation.”
Schwartz’s musical influences are varied: “singer-songwriters like Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Sam Cooke, Tom Lehrer, Warren Zevon, Jacques Brel, Roger Miller, Ray Davies, folk, gospel, reggae,” he listed.
“The Jewish liturgical idiom is a major influence,” he said with gravitas. “I gave a talk a few years ago about the origin and meaning of the cantillation marks in the Jewish bible.” In the next breath he quipped: “I also identify musically at times with the Muppets.”
“I once asked Rick “who do I sound like?”; he said “you”.”
Consoulation: A Musical Meditation, written by Bryan Schwartz and directed by Ross McMillan premieres April 23, 24, 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Gas Station Theatre, River at Osborne. Tickets are available by calling 204-284-9477 or at the door.