Love, yearning, migration, adversity and an inextricable link with one’s home country are the key themes animating the compelling story at the heart of Calling Us Home.
Written and composed by South African musician Alice Gillham, the musical is directed by American director, writer, and educator Peter Flynn and is set to premiere at Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre from 15 to 19 February 2023 before travelling to international stages.
While the cast and crew continue to rehearse ahead of the musical’s opening in Cape Town, we had a quick chat with director Peter Flynn about his time in South Africa, his experience of working on the production, and what makes Calling Us Home such a universally engaging musical.
Hello Mr Flynn – welcome to South Africa! How have you been enjoying your time here so far?
My time in South Africa has been profoundly life changing: as a visitor, as a theatre maker, as an American, and as a human being. Every moment has given me something that provokes wonder, fascination, and constant gratitude. I’ve had the pleasure of already visiting some of Cape Town’s amazing parks, hikes, and beaches; I’m dazzled by the variety of food in this city; and everyone has been genuinely helpful, hospitable, and willing to help my journey. It has all affected me not only as a visitor here, but also shown me what I can take with back home to offer when people come visit there.
The production is still in its first month of rehearsals at the time of writing. How have you found the process?
Continuing with wonder and gratitude – the cast is entirely magnificent. Every company member is fundamentally talented, yes, but also, they each are bringing their own life experience to the story, making our work more authentic, resonant, and compelling. In addition, their generosity with their gifts is inspiring and moving. The story onstage becomes clearer and more powerful because of the cast’s willingness to dive in and commit.
Then the process itself is one of adventure and thoughtfulness. We’re creating a big, new musical – a production has not existed before through this particular lens. So everyday there are questions: from the cast, from Alice our writer, from me, all of which stimulate conversation which, in turn, provokes the creation of the next moment or scene or dance. It’s a massive undertaking to investigate a story of such grand scale, and everyone is leaning in to find its truest, most theatrical form.
The story itself is a compelling one. Can you recall which aspects of Calling Us Home resonated with you when you first encountered the musical?
When I first read Alice’s very personal and moving story, what struck me first was that this is a story about a young woman as our hero, and she perseveres in a foreign land with both strength and vulnerability to find her identity and self-expression. Then what really grabbed me is that our Woman Hero chooses to take all she’s learned and return home. In the States, we constantly read and watch stories about people who come to America, find their goals, and stay to “live happily ever after”. Calling Us Home is a story of real courage: to witness someone establish themselves so powerfully and then say, “Now I bring my new Self and new gifts back home with me.” This continues to fascinate and move me in many different ways.
Similarly, the production will head to international shores after its premiere in Cape Town this February. How do you imagine the piece will be received by audiences abroad?
Our hope is that audiences anywhere will meet the show with equal parts appreciation, fascination, and identification: “I am drawn to this story, I am curious about these people, and I recognise myself and my community in this story.”
And for the South African audiences, what can we expect from the premiere of the 2023 version of Calling Us Home?
To be clear, Calling Us Home had a very successful and stirring performance before the global pandemic (known then as Calling Me Home), so some of our audience will already have an appreciation for Alice’s story from that beautiful production.
We hope our production adds to the story by bringing a sense of community to the experience. Our ensemble of actors is establishing a relationship not only with each other but with the audience throughout the play. After spending the past two and a half years alone and isolated from each other, we have an opportunity (perhaps an obligation?) to sit beside each other, look each other in the eye, say “hello, I’m glad you’re here, please share this moment with us.” So throughout our production, we hope the audience is aware of our Onstage Community not just as actors, but as fellow human beings listening and sharing the story at this moment in time – all of us together again.
Find out more about Calling Us Home here.