Q

Steven Page's promising new Stratford show got shut down. So what did he do?

The solo artist and former Barenaked Ladies frontman also performs a song with several cast members.

The solo artist and former Barenaked Ladies frontman also performs a song with several cast members

'I just got super low energy, but I still was waking up at like 4:30 in the morning,' Page told q's Tom Power. 'It was this mix of anxiety and depression meeting in the worst way.'
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When news of the shutdown came, the cast and crew of Here's What It Takes were already three weeks into rehearsal for what promised to be a hit Stratford show.

The musical was written by Canadian Music Hall of Famer and former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page, along with Siminovitch Prize-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor.

The show charts the highs and lows of a 1980s rock duo, from their early days playing kids' birthday parties to their time topping the charts to their rocky entry into the new century.

For the first time, everyone in the 30-person cast had come together, along with the entire creative team.

"We were getting ready for band rehearsals. Choreographers, designers, and all that stuff were starting to come in," says Page, on the phone with q host Tom Power from his home in New York State.

"This show was supposed to be one of the first in the brand new Tom Patterson Theatre, which was set to open this season — a gorgeous brand new theatre," he says.

"We were looking forward to getting up on that stage, which would have happened by the end of March."

'I emptied Netflix'

Of course, that didn't happen — and like everyone else, Page suddenly found himself being sent home, and his life being turned upside down. He spent hours on social media and news apps, and quickly wrote a song called Isolation that he posted on YouTube.

"I was hocking that for a while because I thought, 'Hey, I'm being productive. I have to be productive. I have to do stuff.' And then I got home from Stratford and I just kind of collapsed for a couple weeks. I emptied Netflix," he says with a laugh.

"Like shake Netflix and nothing comes out."

Page saw other artists streaming live concerts, but the more he watched, the less he wanted to do the same.

"I just got super low energy, but I still was waking up at like 4:30 in the morning," says Page. "It was this mix of anxiety and depression meeting in the worst way."

Then the veteran musician started doing weekly concerts live from home, and presenting them through singer-songwriter Dan Mangan's Side Door, which allows artists to collect a small fee from participants.

"It's been awesome. All of a sudden, I have all this energy. I'm getting all this stuff done and I'm playing old songs I haven't played maybe ever," says Page, who is also taking requests from fans.

"A thousand people come into this room every Saturday and I can see them on my computer screen, and it's like we have a little community. So right now I'm getting stuff done."

Vanessa Sears, Scott Beaudin and Robert Markus were to star in the Stratford production of Here's What It Takes, a new musical by Steven Page and Daniel MacIvor. (David Cooper)

What Page isn't getting done is writing. We've all seen the memes about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine, he says, and at first he put a lot of pressure on himself to write an album and have something to show for this time when it's all over.

"But the most important thing we've got to do is stay okay and give yourself some time," says Page.

"I'm more disciplined as a writer than I used to be so I can get some stuff done. But having the goal of finishing an album while this is happening is not as helpful to me as getting ready to entertain a bunch of people in a Zoom concert every week."

Here's What It Takes

With the Stratford season cancelled, it's unclear when Here's What It Takes will finally hit the stage, but the hope is it will appear next season.

The show is inspired in part by the story of the Barenaked Ladies, and in particular the relationship between Page and fellow BNL frontman Ed Robertson — but Page says that ultimately, it's a story about partnership, collaboration, friendship and love.

"It's really about what is enough. What is enough admiration from outside? What is enough of a connection between you and somebody else?" says Page, who jokes that the show is also part Ernie and Bert, part Simon and Garfunkel.

"We called the show Here's What It Takes, which I like, because on its surface, it kind of sounds like 'Here's what it takes, kid, to make it.' But it's really more about here's what it takes from you.

"When you choose this kind of life, here's what it takes from your life sometimes, and the joy that it can bring, and the magic that happens in collaboration. But it's also about the destruction you can leave behind you too."

'It's worth sticking around for'

In the q interview, Page also joins several of his castmates and performs the musical's final song, No Song Left to Save Me, which is about not giving up — a theme that Page says he can relate to.

"There are lots of times where I think, 'What does it matter if I write anything else? Like am I just doing this for myself now? And what is good about that? Is that selfish of me to just continue to write songs, especially if I feel like maybe nobody's ever going to hear it?" he says.

When musicians get to his stage, and his age, he adds, they are forced to cope with the reality that they don't always attract the same audience — which gets explored in the new song.

"The song has other people saying to the songwriter, 'Keep going, because who are you to say that that next song you write isn't going to save somebody's life?

"I mean, songs have saved my life multiple times and it's not arrogant to believe that you can do it," he says. "It's allowing the chance to happen, and putting that positivity out there is worth it. And it's worth sticking around for."


Story by Jennifer Van Evra. Interview produced by Mitch Pollock.

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