A transplanted Brit, Sudbury musician Andy Lowe loves his adopted home of Northern Ontario.
He loves it so much that he’s written numerous songs about its unique people and places, and now he’s even created a musical about Northern Ontario based on his music.
Lowe said he’s never heard of another musical about Northern Ontario.
“That’s really why it's a musical about Northern Ontario, because it's my mission I feel passionate about,” Lowe said. “I just wanted to say thank you, basically, to the region for being a good home to me as an immigrant.”
The title “No Fences”, by the way, refers to the fact that “every acre of Europe,” where Lowe comes from, is covered in them. “Here, there's Crown land where you can roam for miles,” he said. “It really is an appreciation musical.”
A trained actor, Lowe was hired by Sudbury Theatre Centre in 1984. He ended up liking Sudbury and falling in love with a local girl, and stayed. While he performed at STC several times, by the mid-1990s, he decided to become a musician instead.
Topics of his original music include Pikin' in Killarney to the Burwash Train to the Georgian Bay Blues. He has written and recorded over 30 songs celebrating the Sudbury, Killarney and Manitoulin area.
“I personally don't think anybody's written as many songs about their own region as I have,” Lowe said.
“It's about us and it's about regional patriotism, if you like, or whatever you want to call it, regional pride. Just our identity living here in the mid north. We're not like Torontonians. We're pretty unique.”
He said he knows his music is probably never going to be a hit, because a bunch of songs about this region are probably only going to appeal to people who are from here.
But in making it his mission to sing about his adopted home, “instead of limiting what I could do as a songwriter, it opened up, it opened up. It's like, oh, well, I can sing about this. And I can sing about these things. Because these are things that mean things to me.”
As for how Lowe ended up penning an original musical through a partnership with Sudbury Performance Group, that all came about because of the great disruptor of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sudbury Performance Group president Mark Mannisto said the organization tried to help out local musicians struggling as a result of gathering restrictions by hiring them at full rate to perform livestreamed shows.
In being on-site to co-ordinate the livestream, something twigged in Mannisto’s mind that Lowe’s songs might be a good basis for a musical theatre show.
“The songs about him discovering Northern Ontario and, and what he loved about Northern Ontario, were just absolutely magical,” said Mannisto.
He mentioned the idea of a musical theatre show to Lowe that night and later followed up with an email. Lowe — who, on top of his past life as an actor, had also done some previous theatre writing — told Mannisto he thought he could do it.
It has taken about two years for the project to come together. It was a challenge, but one Lowe has enjoyed rising to the occasion to meet.
Mannisto said he can’t say he envisioned commissioning an original musical when he started Sudbury Performance Group in 2017, but “we left it very big, very open, we wanted to celebrate our local artists in any way that we could. And this opportunity was given to us, and why not?”
The musical is set in the Birch Lake Tent and Trailer Park — basically a stand-in for Anywhere, Northern Ontario — and features a live band, as well as a cast of unique characters who are performing Lowe’s songs around the campfire.
Cast members include Libby Michie, Kyelle Byne, Maija McCahery, Adrienne Young, Satine Stansfield, Damara Moxam, Callum Arnold, Margaret Kamerman and Caitlin Drohan.
“I'm very excited,” Lowe said. “Obviously, you want it to be well received. But I think regardless of where we get to, I think the spirit will come through.I'm excited to share my enthusiasm for this place that we live, and these things with people.”
If you’d like to take in No Fences, it runs at Thorneloe University Feb. 8-10. Purchase tickets online here.
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s assistant editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.