Musical finds longing for connection in classified ads

Craigslist Cantata both quirky and touching

Similar to the site that it’s based on Do You Want What I Have Got: A Craigslist Cantata started small. It was a 20-minute musical in 2009 before premiering as a full-length production in 2012 and is now stopping in Calgary for the High Performance Rodeo as part of a Western Canadian tour.

Co-written by the CBC’s Bill Richardson and composer Veda Hille the piece knits verbatim Craigslist ads with written lyrics into a non-linear musical revue. “There’s no evident through-line except that they’re all hung on the line that is Craigslist” says Richardson of the format. “Somehow [the songs] seem to cling together and make sense.”

As you might expect Craigslist is fertile ground for zany listings that are hilarious when read onstage. Richardson gives a few examples such as “I will pay you $1 to sit in my bathtub full of noodles” “Clown on stilts at mall downtown I would like to see you again” and “My daughter likes to pull the heads off dolls we have lots of headless dolls; would anybody like the headless dolls?”

With material like that it’s safe to say that A Craigslist Cantata will make you laugh. But even the show’s creators were surprised to discover a deeper dimension to the ads they were working with.

“It started to develop this feeling of… a desire for human connection but also a really pronounced feeling of loneliness” says Amiel Gladstone the show’s director. “Even in the ads that are about selling something or that are commerce-based there’s still a feeling of reaching out.”

Richardson identifies the underlying theme as one of longing. “We didn’t set out to write a piece that was going to be about longing but… because that’s what Craigslist is — whether it’s a longing for human connection or the longing for an object — I guess it’s not so surprising that that’s how things evolved.”

The production itself is fairly sparse relying on four actors to become dozens of characters alongside two onstage musicians. “As we were performing it in front of people it started to do the thing that I think theatre can do best which is engage with [the audience’s] imaginations” says Gladstone explaining why they chose to keep the setting low-key.

“In some ways it was being brave enough to let it be open and simple and trust that the ads and the music and the performance were going to all make it work in the way that it should.”

Considering that the musical is based on an ever-changing classifieds list it’s also not surprising that the production has evolved over its lifetime. If a too-good-to-be-missed ad popped up it was added to the show; and if some of the original ads started to go stale they were removed.

Gladstone comments that in working with Craigslist it would be easy to depict a “goofy comedic world” — and the show certainly has its share of humour — but they wanted to do more than entertain.

So A Craigslist Cantata might not be quite what you expect — perhaps just like that kitchen table you thought would be a steal at $20.

“I find that people are moved in a way that might surprise them — and certainly surprised me the first couple times I saw it” says Richardson.