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Patricia O'Callaghan performs in Letters from the Great War.

Mitch Fillion/National Arts Centre

I’ve been searching for a special way to mark Remembrance Day this year.

That Nov. 11 is an important, solemn occasion was imparted to me at a young age by my grandmother, Katherine Nestruck, who served in the Second World World as a member of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. She died in May at age 100 – and this will be the first Remembrance Day that I will not be able to call her on the phone.

While the whole country will be honouring the war dead with two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there are also upcoming opportunities to contemplate the horror of war with music this week.

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I’m planning to tune into Letters from the Great War, a film based on the theatrical concert that the multitalented musician Miranda Mulholland first created for Toronto’s Soulpepper back in 2018. It will be streamed on Facebook via the National Arts Centre at 7 p.m. ET this evening – and then remain online for viewing for the following 24 hours.

The piece is based around real letters written during the Great War by “the soldiers at the front, the nurses abroad and the folks they left behind." Oliver Dennis, Beau Dixon, Qasim Khan and Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster are among the actors reading these letters, while Harrow Fair – a duo comprised of Mulholland and Andrew Penner, recently seen in Ghost Quartet – perform a mixture of contemporary songs and songs from the First World War era.

Miranda Mulholland and Andrew Penner perform as Harrow Fair in Letters from the Great War.

Mitch Fillion/National Arts Centre

Another Remembrance Day-themed piece being uploaded this week is by Brendan McLeod and his band the Fugitives and promises to look anew at the battle of Vimy Ridge through storytelling, verbatim theatre and music. Ridge was originally scheduled to be performed live at Vancouver’s Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in March, but now a “digital production” of it filmed this October will be available to stream on demand through the Chan Centre’s website from 8 a.m. PT on Nov. 11 until midnight on Dec. 21.

Meanwhile, in Sydney, N.S., Billy Bishop Goes to War is currently on stage playing to live, in-person audiences at the Highland Arts Theatre (The Hat) until November 20. Siminovitch Prize nominee Ron Jenkins has directed this new production of the classic Canadian musical about the famous First World War flying ace with Mark Delaney in the title role. There will be a free live-stream of the show on the Hat’s Facebook and YouTube pages on Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. AST.

I’ve been meaning to update newsletter readers on The Hat’s “radical access” campaign – and this gives me an opportunity. The theatre company has, indeed, found enough people in the community willing to sign up for monthly donations to fund the operations of the theatre, and now ticket prices have been eliminated for all.

What an achievement. Congratulations to the Hat – and to Cape Breton.

This Thursday, the Stratford Festival is pulling a 1992 production of Romeo and Juliet filmed for the CBC and first aired there in 1993 out of its archives for its weekly online viewing party.

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This R&J, directed by the late Richard Monette, who would go on to rule the roost at Stratford as artistic director from 1994 to 2007, is not necessarily known for its greatness – though Colm Feore gives a memorably vigorous performance as Mercutio.

But it is nevertheless a notable production (and a lot of fun to watch) because it features a young Antoni Cimolino, who is now artistic director of the Stratford Festival, and an even younger Megan Follows, still near the peak of her Anne of Green Gables fame, playing the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s tragedy.

If you’re curious, as I was, what The Globe and Mail thought of the show back in the day, theatre critic Liam Lacey, on reviewing in person in 1992, wrote: “All in all, a Romeo and Juliet that’s good for more than half its length is better than one that’s half-good throughout.” And here’s what television critic John Doyle wrote about it when it aired on CBC the following year: “This Romeo and Juliet is fast-paced and fun but the program teeters on the brink of being mere teen-age farce.” (I guess it used to be Globe style to hyphenate “teenage”!)

Romeo and Juliet is free to watch on the Stratford Festival’s YouTube channel for 36 hours starting with a live watch party at 6:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 12 that will feature interviews with Cimolino and Follows. It is also available on-demand any time on Stratfest@Home until April 19. (I wrote about that Stratford Festival streaming platform in October.)

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