By MICHELLE SCHMIDT
“Romancing the West” is a documentary concert, a show that defies categorization. There’s music, big screen visuals, costumes and stories. It’s a two-and-a-half hour journey through the past 240 years via story and song played out on stage in Enterprise, Ore., of all places.
If the show transcends music and production genres, it does the same to political and belief systems. The show explores what can happen when people of different cultures come together in mutual respect.
Honoring our differences has not always taken place in the West. Part of the value and credibility of the production is that Christina Duane, the show’s writer and producer, does not shy away from telling history as it was, even when it makes us uncomfortable. But the story doesn’t end there.
“Now we’re at a point of celebration,” Duane said. “There’s forgiveness, there’s healing. We’re informing our children and celebrating as multiple generations together.”
The show has been in development for years – before even Duane herself realized it. History and small-town America have been long-time passions of Duane’s, reflected in many of the songs she wrote and sang over the years. An opportunity to write for a hometown celebration gave birth to the concept of weaving these songs, stories and themes into a show that told the story of the West.
“But I didn’t want to just do it myself,” Duane added. “All my favorite artists in the whole world are in this.”
From her background in music – Duane was a co-founder of Velvet Bleu, a SoCal-based pop/rock duo that performed during the ’90s – she had all the connections she needed to provide the wide range of music styles featured in the work.
“We have cowboys and rockers,” Duane said.
She describes two of the show’s performers, Butch Martin and Martin Gerschwitz, both as strong, “larger-than-life” characters. Martin is a cowboy poet and Gerschwitz is a rock musician, and yet, here they are walking off the same tour bus into a restaurant together.
“They perfectly represent our show,” Duane said.
For this reason the show tends to engage a wide audience, from different cultures and generations.
“People just stay for hours after the show talking about it. It’s like they’ve lived all this history and it just impacts you,” Duane said. “We’ll have multiple generations all together and they’re all interacting and they all have something musically and culturally that they loved.”
And in telling the story of the West, the Nez Perce tribe is necessarily included.
“I’ve always loved Chief Joseph – I’ve always loved his spirit, that he was willing to trust. His tribe has always been special in my heart,” Duane said.
Duane credits a grade-school report on the Nez Perce as initiating this attachment. When she was developing this show, she met with local tribal leaders to perform parts of the show and learn more of their story, as well as collect archival materials for use on the screen.
“So to do this at Joseph is very special,” Duane said.
Not only does performing near Joseph have historical value, but it represents another purpose of the show, which is to partner with historical and cultural organizations in small communities. Duane does not want to put on a show and just leave; she wants to ignite audience curiosity in a way that connects them to their community culture and history.
“We want you to get out and discover this history,” Duane said.
In many ways, the theme of the show may be best reflected in the lyrics of one of the show’s songs, written by Duane, entitled “Legacy” –
In the stillness we breathe
The air that they breathed,
We stand on this dust
That moved under their feet.
On this mountain of dreams
Where we follow their lead,
Will we be remembered?
Will we leave a legacy?
Schmidt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 305-4578.
-> if you go:
WHAT: Romancing the West
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 24
WHERE: RimRock Inn, 83471 Lewiston Highway, Enterprise, Ore.
COST: $20. To buy tickets or for information call (514) 292-7829 or visit www.romancingthewest.org