Thom Fitzgerald is going in circles. The filmmaker has adapted George Boyd's play Gideon's Blues as The Gospel According to the Blues, premiering Tuesday, 10pm on Vision TV. Twenty years ago, Fitzgerald worked behind the scenes on Upstart Theatre Company's production of Gideon's Blues.
"It was at the Cunard Street Theatre---there used to be one," says Fitzgerald. "It was a strong piece of drama that was set in my own neighbourhood---that's a rare thing to come across."
Singer/actor Jackie Richardson played Momma-Lou Steele in the original production and she reprises the role for Fitzgerald's TV version. He credits Richardson's performance for making both stage and screenplay sing. (Fitzgerald makes characteristic use of music to amplify sequences, in this case, choral gospel.)
Momma-Lou, an African-Canadian matriarch and widow, sings in a choir and presides over a north end Halifax household. Outside her door, the street runs with drugs and violence. Both ills threaten to spill into her house. Momma-Lou deliberates and moves to meet the threat.
"The television piece is one hour, so it's a shortened version of the play," Fitzgerald explains. "It's not entirely contemporary. It's set more in years past. I don't know what year exactly."
That it's in the past is enough for the writer-director. Viewers will see an "older version" of Halifax's north end, at a time of "pre-gentrification," says Fitzgerald, who's lived in the area almost the entire time since he moved to Halifax, more than two decades ago. He acknowledges that some may see his cultural efforts as part of its gentrification. Though he opposes economic dislocation, he doesn't believe in mummification. "It's a living, evolving community," Fitzgerald says, adding, "I've watched it change and of course I'm part of that change. By living in a place you change it."
Later this summer, Fitzgerald begins filming Cloudburst, shooting a script he already wrote and directed onstage at Plutonium Playhouse. The upstairs space at Hunter and Cunard is in the same building where Fitzgerald works on sound-editing and other post-production film elements.
Currently, Plutonium is co-presenting A Rescue Demonstration, written and performed by Stewart Legere and Katie Swift as two people whose futures are fused by a moment of violence, with causes and consequences deeply rooted to place. It's an intellectual and physical foray, according to Fitzgerald.
"Stewart and Katie are amazing. Their performance is astonishingly tight," he says. "They can work together so closely---often in unison, often doing things I would break somebody's nose doing."
Fitzgerald fears worse injuries could happen at a series of proposed roundabouts across HRM. From a diner with a full view of the Armdale Roundabout, Fitzgerald has observed many near misses because of drivers speeding through the circle. "You cannot take in 360 degrees. That leads to accidents. When you have a partial visual obstruction and a focal point, people will slow down."
He started a Facebook group (Roundabout Art for Halifax!) to share research into the traffic-slowing and to sample aesthetics of such public art. Travelling other places, Fitzgerald and others have seen how art helps stitch the traffic circles seamlessly into the downtown, "like a town square."
<BOX>*The Gospel According to the Blues*
Tuesday, June 1, 10pm on Vision TV