Thomas Hellman explores American mythology by immersing himself in the period between the settling of the West and the Great Depression of the 1930s. In a show codirected with Brigitte Haentjens, this multitalented artist blends blues, folk and gospel in a musical illustration of artists’ role in bringing meaning to chaos.
“If I am not I, who will be?” (Henry David Thoreau)
From 2012 to 2014, as a contributor to Radio-Canada’s La tête ailleurs, Thomas Hellman presented a series of radio pieces about the history of music during the economic crisis of the 1930s. The more he talked about it on air, the more he thought about the close connection between major social movements and music. The experience inspired him to develop the concept into a musical fresco spanning the period between the settling of the American West and the Great Depression, weaving together songs from the blues, folk and gospel repertoire of that era. Moving effortlessly among guitar, banjo, piano, ukulele and vocals, this brilliant artist immersed himself in this landmark chapter of American history, backed by Olaf Gundel (piano, banjo, guitar, percussion and vocals) and Sage Reynolds (double bass and vocals). And because in addition to being a multitalented musician he’s a lover of literature, a huge admirer of the likes of Roland Giguère, Frank H. Mayer and John Steinbeck, he invited Brigitte Haentjens, a leading light in Canadian theatre, to codirect his sweeping personal investigation into resilience. Following its successful premiere at Montreal’s Théâtre Outremont in September 2015, the show toured extensively in Quebec and Ontario, prompting audiences everywhere to ask themselves: might the ability of the artists of the 1930s to bring meaning to chaos hold lessons for our own troubled times?