Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret likes to play with the past. Four years ago the interdisciplinary company from East Vancouver created the Jessie Award–nominated Hard Times Hit Parade, set at a dance marathon in the early ’30s. For Dusty Flowerpot’s latest retro production, The Scarlet Queen of Mercy, we’re taken to 1955, during the post–Second World War boom and a renaissance in Hollywood. For an extra twist, the musical extravaganza is about the making of a B-movie romance set in the ’20s.
“The audience is encouraged to dress up for either the ’20s or the ’50s,” says Kat Single-Dain, The Scarlet Queen of Mercy’s writer, choreographer, and artistic director. “The best-dressed may be bumped up to the VIP seating that we’ll have, with tables for four or five, each table with a bottle of wine. The whole audience is very much part of the show—I came up with the idea of having them watch the filming of a movie and be extras in it. It’s a format for direct involvement.”
Single-Dain’s concept involves two narratives that play off one another—the B-movie script and the interactions of the people making the movie. “The story line of the film is the most clichéd Hollywood romance I could think of—cheesy and melodramatic—about a prince and a showgirl falling in love at first sight, and mistaken identities. It’s meant to be very over-the-top. And the real story line you follow is that of the film’s director and his downfall. So it’s a musical comedy but bordering on drama.”
The show is also a parody—of the kind made by people who love the things they’re sending up. Arthur Goudy, the director of the B movie, also resorts to acting in it. “He’s difficult to work with, so people end up quitting and he has to play their roles,” Single-Dain explains. “There are parallel story lines. Goudy is played by Jack Garton from Maria in the Shower, who’s also the show’s musical director.”
In writing The Scarlet Queen of Mercy, Single-Dain drew on the strengths of the artists involved. “I see who’s available for roles, and work the script around their talents. So it’s a mixture of creating a film with certain characters, and creating characters for the people interested in being in the show. The Queen is either Deanna Knight or Raina Von Waldenburg, depending on their availability, and Nathan Barrett is the Prince. Ruby, the main showgirl, is Karly Warkentin. Candice Roberts, who was Marla Dean in Hard Times, plays her again in this show, so it’s kind of what happened to Marla after the marathon—she went to Hollywood and became a B-movie actress. Other main characters are the showgirls—there’s a full ’20s chorus line.”
The Scarlet Queen of Mercy has choreography in five styles of dance, including tap, as well as 11 songs—one written by Warkentin, the others by Garton or Patrick Kearns, who plays Goudy’s assistant director. The multifaceted production also involves the projection of film sequences—and is itself being lensed by moviemaker Jon Bierman as part of the action. “We have huge prop cameras on-stage that look like they’re shooting 35mm film, but actually it’s digital,” says Single-Dain.
Single-Dain feels she’s found a rich formula for multidisciplinary work. “The concept of creating a show around the filming of a movie is something I plan to take further,” she says. “Maybe have a whole series of productions where it’s the same basic format, set in a different period and for a different B movie—like Monsters in Space—but always a musical with dance.”