A Few Words with Hart House’s Jeremy Hutton
By: Ryan Quinn
RQ: So, Robin Hood started as collective creation at Shakespeare by the Sea, correct?
JH: Yeah, 2005.
RQ: Would you like to tell me a little about how that came together?
JH: Shakespeare by the Sea had been doing created family shows for a bunch of years. Very, very kid oriented. Very silly. A lot of them featured pool noodle props and costumes. In 2004, I went to Shakespeare by the Sea and did one of those, it was a Snow White, and I got along really well with Jesse MacLean, who was one of the directors there at the time. I was also doing fight direction for them, and music, and acting. So, we started talking for that next season of doing something a little bigger than the regular family show. I wouldn’t call it “serious”, but there was a little more substance to it than what they had been doing. So I wrote maybe two songs before I got there. I rolled in and we had three weeks to throw together something. Back then, it was before Jesse or myself had really mastered the collective creation. I mean, we did it again this past year with an Alice in Wonderland, and it was a lot smoother process than when we did Robin Hood. It was literally like, we got our casting, and then went off in various groups and they just started improvising their way through the very loose structure that they had set up for us. So, some of that material was awesome. The sheriff and Prince John, a lot of their material remains today pretty much unchanged. Then there were other scenes like Robin Hood and the merry men, where you had ten people trying to improvise onstage at once. By the time we got to opening night on that, we were lucky that we had three quarters of the script done. We just made up the rest as we went along. But, it was hugely successful. It was sloppy but it was hugely successful.
RQ: At what point did it solidify? Is it still being changed? I know you’re in runs, so I assume it’s pretty set in stone.
JH: You’d be surprised, actually.
RQ: Are you still in the process of workshopping the script and the songs?
JH: Yeah, I spent two years after the first run rewriting almost all of the songs. There are only two songs left from the original production. One of those was a four-bar snippet that is now a full song. So, I wrote a lot of new music, and I brought on Kieran MacMillan once I thought that it needed a bit more of a quality composer as opposed to myself. I’m a decent one, but he’s fantastic. Then, there were two productions of it at the Toronto Youth Theatre, and it kept developing over that time. In 2011, I went back to Shakespeare by the Sea with all the new material, and we had to decide, Jesse and I, between the new material and the old material, what we wanted. There were two very different shows at that point. We literally had two different Robin Hood shows. So, we solidified a lot of that, but there was still a lot of stuff, especially music, that wasn’t quite ready yet. Shakespeare by the Sea is more or less a capalla, and you have to write the music to fit that, whereas here, we were rewriting songs throughout the rehearsal process for this. I think that last song we finished writing was on…December 19th. That was “Generosity”, the last song Robin Hood sings in the first half. The closing number we finished about a week before that. It was kind of intense. Even now, there are new orchestrations for the band on a daily basis. It’s mostly done, but we’re still adding minute details.
RQ: So that’s been your role in the Hart House production, you kept adapting and growing the script, the book, the music, etc.
JH: Yeah, exactly. And, I’m also the fight director. Also, the music director, Kieran, was off doing another show so while he was gone, myself and Tara Litvak who was the assistant music director, we taught everybody the music and sort of sat there waiting for Kieran to send us the new pages. Even if the song was written, a lot of it wasn’t on the page. So, there was an intense process of them transferring things to us, and us teaching it. We kept the fights almost identical to how they were in Halifax, so he would have a chance to score them musically. So, that was kind of nice, not having to rebuild all that from scratch. But then again, Robin Hood had an extra five goons to kill in the opening scene, so…
RQ: This is a really personal work of yours because you’ve been so close to it the whole time, was it difficult to let some of that control go when you got to Hart House?
JH: I don’t think that really happened. It was nice for Jesse to have a chance to direct it. He’s never directed it indoors before. He’s never directed it with a female Will Scarlet before, it’s always been a man before. I’m thrilled that I didn’t have to do that because I had enough on my plate. The music, the fights, the rewriting. I don’t think any of us feel like it’s “let go” yet. We’re really close, but you’ll read some reviews that tell you that the show’s a little long and they’re not wrong, so we have to tighten up the content a little bit. The Drowsy Chaperone had fourteen rewrites or something around there before it hit Broadway. We’re at rewrite number eight, so we have a few more to go.
RQ: What drew you to Robin Hood in the first place? Why Robin Hood instead of any of the number of other stories?
JH: I think initially it was that Jesse wanted to do one with a lot of fights in it. They always want to base it on some sort of legend or fairy tale when they’re building a show there. And because they had never really had a fight director before, we all got really excited about adding the possibility of that kind of theatrical magic to the mix. When you’re outside, there’s only certain kinds of theatrical magic you can have. You have costumes, lighting’s not much of an option. You can sing a lot, you can do a lot of acrobatics, you can fight, and those are your theatre magic tricks.
RQ: I want to ask you about Romeo and Juliet as well. You went straight from Romeo and Juliet into this. You must have been working on both at once. How was that experience?
JH: It was intense. Romeo and Juliet is another big, big monster of a production, then Robin Hood started rehearsals two days after Romeo and Juliet opened. So during the rehearsal process for one, I was in auditions for the other, realizing that we still had so much music that was unfinished and I was trying as much as I could to pump out lyrics and melodies. There as a couple actors in this show who were in that one as well, so while Romeo and Juliet was running, Jeremy LaPalme, Dave Difrancesco, these guys were madly rehearsing dances in between.