What sweet music they make!

Rainbow Stage presents local company work for first time with vampiric thrills

Duncan Cox (left) and Sharon Bajer star in Afterlight, the first original production by Rainbow Stage in its 70-year history.

Supplied photo

In the 70-year history of Rainbow Stage, the theatre company has presented countless enduring classics, much to Winnipeggers’ delight. It seemed about time for a change.

For the first time, Rainbow Stage will show the work of local companies for the debut of musical Afterlight, a co-production between Walk&Talk Theatre Company (W&T) and The Keep Theatre.

The project is a collaborative effort from two theatrical stars and esteemed Rainbow Stage alumni: actor, playwright and director Sharon Bajer, as well as actor, composer/lyricist and W&T co-founder Duncan Cox.

Afterlight is a love story between two people. One is a vampire who is tired of living forever, and the other is an old woman at the end of her life who doesn’t want to die,” Bajer says. “They meet at a time in their lives when they’re really questioning what it means to have a life well lived.”

“It ends up being a love story between these two characters, and the kind of love on an emotional, soulful level,” Cox adds.

The origins of the supernatural romance can be traced back to Rainbow Stage’s 2019 production of Strike!. Bajer was the company’s director-in-residence at the time and had cast Cox. From there, a creative partnership blossomed.

Afterlight was conceptualized through song demos Cox had been working on. “After finishing work on Strike!, we got together, and Duncan played me a couple of songs. One of the songs was ‘I’m Not the Man.’ He just played it for me on my piano, and I just loved the song. It was really that first song that inspired the idea, and then we actually wrote out the whole outline,” Bajer says.

“That was all I really had, a couple songs of this sad vampire,” Cox says. “Sharonand I bounced a couple ideas back and forth, and she said, ‘what if the woman he loves is an old woman?’ and my mind was just blown by that. It shot the lid off the project and opened it right up.”

The playwright-actor duo focused on visual discrepancy between the geriatric Wanda (Bajer) and the youthful and immortal Razvan (Cox). The pair conducted interviews with octogenarians over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic to get a better sense of Wanda’s character.

“We asked them questions about their life and feelings about isolation, memory loss, grief (and) aging,” Bajer says. “Those women really inspired a lot of the stuff that’s in the show.”

And while the vampiric romance is a well-told tale, Bajer and Cox found themselves less inspired by other tales of blood and lust that had come before, and more so by the themes with which Afterlight grapples.

“One of the big ideas in Afterlight is feeling like you’re not seen, and this is a general human thing. A lot of what we talk about is a life well-lived. It’s about soul connections and beauty that’s more than skin-deep,” Cox says.

“Plus, vampires are sexy and fun and hilarious,” Bajer says.

“So are old women!” Cox says.

Afterlight plays at Rainbow Stage from Sept. 21 to Oct. 1. Tickets can be purchased via bit.ly/3RfmQ84.

Published in Volume 78, Number 02 of The Uniter (September 14, 2023)

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