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5 Questions with George Meanwell from A Huron County Christmas Carol at the Blyth Festival

By Keith Tomasek, Dec. 1, 2023

If you’ve seen a few shows at the Stratford Festival, there’s a strong chance you’ve seen George Meanwell, who most recently appeared in “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Meanwell first joined the Stratford Festival to be in the 2010 production of “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” That production starred Tony Award winner Brent Carver, Nathalie Nadon, and Mike Nadajewski.

As a classically trained musician, you might expect Meanwell to be in the Orchestra pit. More often than not, he appears on stage as he did in 2010.

Currently, he’s appearing as Marley in the Blyth Festival’s production of “A Huron County Christmas Carol,” Gil Garratt’s adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, modernized and set in Huron County.

George Meanwell

As a side note, I want to mention Meanwell’s support of the Stratford community. I’ll never forget his fantastic arrangement and performance of the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon” at a fundraiser for the Stratford Professional Arts Lodge, a volunteer-driven charity dedicated to creating affordable housing and social assistance for Canada’s professional arts community.

5 Questions with George Meanwell

1)You started with cello lessons in high school. I heard you didn’t love the instrument and used a dictaphone recording to fool your parents into thinking you were practising. Meanwhile, you developed a love of guitar and wrote Woody Guthrie-style songs.
Who were some of your favourite recording artists back then?

All true!

Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Doc Watson, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, John Fahey, Jorma Kaukonen; I learned to play a lot of their songs and instrumentals by dropping a needle on an LP over and over and over again…

2) Ultimately, you completed your cello training and landed a position with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. As you landed more regular work in orchestras, in your free time did you play the guitar, concertina, fiddle, or other instruments Stratford theatregoers are accustomed to seeing you play?

Until I joined Quartetto Gelato, I only owned two instruments: my cello, and my guitar.

For the quartet I bought a classical guitar (subsequently traded for an electric after I left) and a mandolin. But from the end of the 1970s until I joined the Stratford Festival in 2010, I probably spent 90% of my time on the cello. I think I wrote one song in 20 years.

It was when Rick Fox asked me to join the Festival to be in the production of “Jacques Brel” that I began to acquire the instruments called for in the various productions that I was asked to be in – that year I bought the classical guitar that I used again in “Much Ado About Nothing this season.”

3) Before you joined the orchestra of the Toronto production of “Phantom of the Opera,” did you have an interest in musical theatre?

Unless you count “My Fair Lady,” “Cabaret,” and “The Three Penny Opera,” no, not really.

4) You play Marley in the Byth Festival’s production of “A Huron County Christmas Carol.” In your career, you’ve moved from playing in the orchestra pit to playing music onstage to playing a character not tied to music. Did you learn anything during your classical music training that has helped your acting?

Great question!

What immediately comes to mind is that classical music (all music really) requires a constant state of sensitive alertness – both of yourself and of your colleagues – which translates well into theatre. They’re both a kind of chamber music.

5) The role of Marley is significant because although Scrooge refers to Marley as a friend, the flashbacks reveal that they were little more than business partners. In the creative arts, and show business, artists often put the “show” before the “business,” consequently sacrificing economic stability. You are a consummate artists. How have you managed to find a balance?

First of all, I have to acknowledge that I come from privilege. My parents very generously supported my somewhat quixotic decision to stop studying Chinese language and history at McGill and to start studying the piano in Toronto when I was 20. I also came of age at the time a time when it was very inexpensive to live in Toronto. A three bedroom apartment in the annex was $175 a month, which translates to about $800 a month into today’s money. I was playing in a folk trio – Short Turn – in the late 70s and if we had two gigs a month we could live.

It is much much harder now for musicians in the early part of their careers.

I’ve been very fortunate to have had a reasonably good income from music most of my career, but I did spend eight years working part time in a law firm doing bookkeeping and HR.

Either / Or.

From each pair below, pick one and explain why:

1) Berlin or New York?

Berlin because I finally play enough instruments that I could cover the book played by the cellist in the original production of “The Threepenny Opera,” who also played Banjo, guitar, Hawaiian guitar, mandolin, and bandoneon.

2) Concertina or Accordion?

Don’t make me choose.

3) Juggling or Meditation?

Juggling is meditation.

4) A Gimlet or a Martini?

I’m not really a cocktail drinker, but I will say a gimlet because I play in an Irish group with Michael McClennan, and Ian Harper (two other Stratford musicians) and we call ourselves Gimlet’s Fine. We will be playing a Night Music concert next summer at Stratford July 29.

4) The Guardian or the New York Times?

The Guardian, naturally, partly because of its politics, but mainly because it has an endowment which has enabled it to publish independent of private ownership.

5) Neil Young or Eric Clapton?

Neil Young. Partly because “After the Gold Rush” is a perfect album and partly because I don’t care that much about flashy guitar playing.

“A Huron County Christmas Carol” features a superb company of actors and musicians including Randy Hughson and Trish Lindstrom, who is making her Blyth Festival debut.

Book your tickets soon because the 2019 production sold out!

Here’s what the critics said:

Director Gil Garratt’s “A Huron County Christmas Carol is fun, full of great songs and filled with the warmest possible mood” says Christopher Hoile, the publisher at Stage Door.

Kelly Monaghan, the publisher at Ontario Stage says, “The production is blessed with the presence of Stratford Festival veteran Randy Hughson, who creates one of the most memorable Scrooges I have ever seen.”

Details Details
A Huron County Christmas Carol
On now through December 22, 2023.
Blyth Festival
431 Queen St, Blyth, ON N0M 1H0
Book Online
Call the box office: 1-877-862-5984

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5 Questions with George Meanwell from A Huron County Christmas Carol at the Blyth Festival

Keith Tomasek
1 December 2023
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