The Hamilton Spectator

Actors delve beneath the legend in Tom Wilson’s story, ‘Beautiful Scars’

‘Wilson’s journey, searching for his true identity is so touching,’ Hansen says


“It’s all about theatrical storytelli­ng.”

Kristi Hansen is talking about “Beautiful Scars,” the dramatic new musical about the life of Hamilton music icon Tom Wilson.

“It’s a different sort of musical,” she says. “The structure is unusual. There isn’t, for instance, the big 11 o’clock number. There’s a chorus of spirits and we pop in and out. We offer memories. We’re all about telling the story. I play Tom’s adoptive mom Bunny, but I’m also part of the ensemble that gives the show its Indigenous heart.”

Kristi’s life partner Sheldon Elter agrees.

Sheldon and Hansen have been together 24 years and they’ve shared theatre stages in production­s of more traditiona­l musicals like Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” and “A Little Night Music.”

Elter, who is Indigenous, chuckles when you ask him if that makes it difficult to find roles.

“I always wonder, did I get the part because I’m good, or was I just checking off a box, because I’m Indigenous?”

Elter is referring, of course, to the way some theatres use a kind of quota system to appear to be casting with diversity.

“It ought to be all about talent,” Elter says. “Then, too, there is the issue of being typecast. I don’t want to just be thought of to play rapists, wife-beaters and murderers.”

Elter is referring to the way people of some background­s are pigeonhole­d as perfect for certain roles. “It happens,” he says.

“Getting cast in anything is an issue, whatever your heritage. The only way to persevere as an actor is to absolutely love it. It’s not that lucrative after all. I’d say that you’ve got to really enjoy it.”

Elter plays the mature Wilson in the new musical and celebrates the way it adheres to the rock star’s Mohawk heritage.

“We make it all feel less colonial,” he says. “The staging will be truthful to Tom Wilson and there will be an Indigenous feel to the storytelli­ng.”

“This one is very different from ‘The Sound of Music,’ the show I just finished,” Hansen says. “It’s deeper and it’s darker. Then, too, it’s rooted in Hamilton.”

Elter and Hansen are from Edmonton and say they are enjoying poking around Hamilton neighbourh­oods, discoverin­g places that are key to Wilson’s story.

“Wilson’s journey, searching for his true identity is so touching, so telling, that performing his story is going to be emotional,” Hansen says.

For his part, Elter feels a personal connection with it.

“Being mixed race, Indigenous and white, I feel my own story relates somehow. My First Nations father was an abusive alcoholic. He was a musician. He wasn’t there for me, and I don’t know a lot about my identity. I didn’t grow up on a reservatio­n. I grew up in northern Alberta. I’m Métis.”

Elter says he was treated differentl­y than other children. “I was called names and made fun of because of who I am. I sensed that I didn’t belong but didn’t really know why.

“And I was bullied for being poor and, yes, we really were poor. I’m a product of a single mother. My mother never really talked about my heritage. I had so many questions. So, you see, there are a lot of similariti­es with Wilson’s story.”

Elter says he doesn’t think he really set out to be an actor.

“It just happened. I wanted to teach primary children. And I did, for a few years. But in high school I had done some drama, so that thought was there too. I did standup comedy on the road and failed miserably. Someone said, why don’t you try acting instead, so here I am.”

Hansen grew up enjoying telling stories.

“I loved being able to transform into someone else. When I was in Grade 8, I played Frenchie in ‘Grease’ and I was hooked. I especially love musicals, but I identify as an actor first. As a disabled person, I can’t do pointe work,” she laughs. “But I want to play all sorts of roles. You have to audition a lot. Women must face the fact there are more of us auditionin­g for parts than men and there are less roles available to us.”

Hansen likes Bunny, the character she plays in “Beautiful Scars.”

“She’s a tough broad. She says what she thinks, and she means what she says. Her mother was a sex worker. She’s had to pull herself up. She’s such a contradict­ion. She’s so very complex. She can say terrible cutting things, yet she can be so kind.”

For Elter, playing Wilson is a responsibi­lity.

“I mean, there he is, the man himself in the rehearsal room and I’m singing one of his songs and telling his story. How frightenin­g is that?”

“‘Beautiful Scars’ is an Indigenous story. It has aspects of Tom Wilson as both a musician and a man,” Hansen says. “I’m not sure you could ever separate the two. That’s something this musical will definitely reflect.”

 ?? DAHLIA KATZ PHOTO ?? Jeremy Proulx, left, and Sheldon Elter on the first day of rehearsals for “Beautiful Scars.” Elter plays Tom Wilson in the new musical.
DAHLIA KATZ PHOTO Jeremy Proulx, left, and Sheldon Elter on the first day of rehearsals for “Beautiful Scars.” Elter plays Tom Wilson in the new musical.
 ?? ?? Brandon McGibbon, right in jean jacket, and Kristi Hansen, right, on the first day of rehearsals for “Beautiful Scars.”
Brandon McGibbon, right in jean jacket, and Kristi Hansen, right, on the first day of rehearsals for “Beautiful Scars.”
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