Behind the scenes with Gord Downie at the challenging and inspiring Secret Path live rehearsals
Downie's band, family and the Secret Path team share stories in this clip from new doc Finding the Secret Path
Two years ago, Gord Downie had completed his emotional and intense farewell tour with The Tragically Hip during his time with terminal brain cancer. And he moved directly on to his next live challenge: live shows in support of his Secret Path film and album, telling the tragic story of Chanie Wenjack's escape from an Ontario residential school.
Two days before the first show, Downie and his band went to Huntsville to do a full technical run through synced with the Secret Path film — a very challenging but equally rewarding experience where they saw the project come together fully.
In the clip below from new documentary Finding the Secret Path, airing and streaming tonight on CBC at 9pm (9:30NT), go behind the scenes of the Huntsville rehearsals and see Downie's band, family and members of the Secret Path crew reflect on and give us a peak at the challenging but life-affirming experience.
Watch a clip from Finding the Secret Path:
'You start to realize just how difficult this was gonna be for Gord'
At the Huntsville rehearsal, Downie's brother and Secret Path producer Mike Downie saw "all the pieces come together" — but also how much of a massive challenge this was for his brother. "That's where you start to realize just how difficult this was gonna be for Gord."
"It wasn't clear to me that this was entirely doable."
Downie had never played such a precisely timed show before
Playing the Secret Path shows required the band to play along with a consistently running film. That left little room for error. Secret Path technical director Dave Koster says this wasn't something Downie had ever done before. "Gord's never been part of a production that was time out that way," he explains. "You know, with the Hip, they just went on stage and they played rock. So there was a lot of working that out in rehearsals."
At one moment in the rehearsals Downie laughs, "I mean, we are going to fake the show. Right?"
'Our last band member has showed up'
Despite the challenge, the Secret Path team felt how beautifully the project came together with the music set to the film — something some of them, like the Barenaked Ladies' Kevin Hearn, hadn't ever seen before. "The Algonquin theatre rehearsal is the first time I'd seen the animation. And that was like, OK, our last band member has showed up now."
Downie wanted to let the story be the star
"Gord definitely wanted the story to be the star of the show," says Koster. "He didn't perform the way he would with the Tragically Hip, where he's trying to get every eyeball in the house to stay focused on him. He wanted to get it across that this was a 12-year-old boy who was wanting to get back home."
Hearn saw a huge difference between Downie on stage and off. "I found once we went onstage, Gord almost wasn't Gord anymore. He was totally into what he was envisioning and singing."
'He's unstoppable': Kevin Drew felt protective of and inspired by Downie
"I was divided about being protective of him," says Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew, who played in the Secret Path band, "thinking, 'Should we do this?' and at the same time wanting to do it so badly with him."
"It wasn't that I questioned his determination — I just didn't wanna be a part of putting him out there on display with something that was so, so, so dear and close to his heart if I didn't think he was ready."
"It was in Huntsville where I saw that this guy is...he's unstoppable. He's gonna do it."
About Finding the Secret Path
Marking the 52nd anniversary of Chanie Wenjack's death and the first anniversary of Gord Downie's, CBC will premiere Finding the Secret Path this coming Friday, October 12 at 9pm on CBC TV (9:30NT) and on the CBC TV app. An encore broadcast of the documentary will air on CBC News Network on Sunday, October 14 at 8pm ET.
Watch the trailer:
Finding the Secret Path documents Downie's efforts to bring the story of Chanie Wenjack to the national stage to raise awareness of the painful legacy of Canada's residential school system. Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishnaabe boy, died while trying to escape a residential school in northern Ontario in 1966. The documentary includes reflections by the Wenjack family and Indigenous leaders, including AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and former Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North.
The documentary concludes a CBC trilogy that has spanned three years and includes The Secret Path animated feature (set to Downie's Secret Path album) and Gord Downie's Secret Path in Concert. Stream both in full now.