From Page to Stage: Bringing a Classic Canadian Novel to the NAC

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Four premieres across the country for the adaptation of Ann‑Marie MacDonald’s critically-acclaimed Fall on Your Knees

In 1996, Fall on Your Knees, written by the internationally acclaimed Canadian writer Ann‑Marie MacDonald, was released – a sweeping novel that chronicles three generations of Cape Breton Island’s Piper family. The story moves from the battlefields of the First World War to the emerging jazz scene in Harlem, NY, and into the lives of four unforgettable sisters.

Now in 2022, the National Arts Centre English Theatre, Vita Brevis Arts, Canadian Stage, Neptune Theatre and Grand Theatre have announced an unprecedented partnership that will bring the world premiere stage adaptation of the Canadian classic to four cities – Toronto, London, Ottawa and Halifax – beginning in 2023.

“Seeing Fall on Your Knees brought to fruition as a piece of theatre is the fulfillment of a process that began long ago when I first started writing what would become the novel.  Fall on Your Knees began, in my mind, as a play. This makes sense because I was, and am, a playwright. I ended up bringing the story to light as a novel, but I’ve always cherished the vision of it as a three-dimensional experience for a live audience. I am so grateful to all the incredibly talented artists, especially Hannah Moscovitch and Alisa Palmer, for boldly and beautifully bringing it to life.”
Ann-Marie MacDonald, author, Fall on Your Knees

Adapting a Canadian masterpiece for the stage

Ambitious creation projects like the adaptation of Fall on Your Knees take many years to develop.

The idea germinated with the renowned Canadian theatre artist Alisa Palmer, who approached Hannah Moscovitch more than 10 years ago. Under the umbrella of Palmer’s company Vita Brevis Arts, a unique development process began. Over the next several years with support from the National Arts Centre, the Shaw Festival, Citadel Theatre (Edmonton), New York Theater Workshop and Mirvish Productions (Toronto) the development of Fall on Your Knees has engaged the talents of some of Canada’s top theatre artists, as they translated the power of MacDonald’s novel to the stage. 

“Ten years ago, I was inspired to adapt Fall on Your Knees as a piece of music-driven theatre. The story, beloved and disturbing, painful and joyful, speaks all the more urgently now. I’m incredibly fortunate to be collaborating with the brilliant playwright Hannah Moscovitch, and a formidable creative team so that Fall on Your Knees will speak as powerfully from the stage as it has from the page.”
Alisa Palmer, director and adaptor, Fall on Your Knees

Transforming an inspired idea into a large-scale creation for the stage is only possible with major financial and artistic support. The National Arts Centre Foundation secured a lead gift from David and Margaret Fountain of Halifax, enabling five Canadian theatre companies to co-produce a uniquely Canadian Story. The NAC’s National Creation Fund, which invests in the development of ambitious new Canadian works in theatre, dance, music and inter-disciplinary performing arts, made a substantial investment in Fall on Your Knees in 2018 that made the development workshops possible; in addition, the creative team obtained a Development/Production grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

In 2019, the creative team led major workshops of the production, and in 2021, the National Arts Centre supported and hosted a week-long production and design workshop at the NAC.

“The main thing that goes into developing an iconic beloved story is a huge amount of work. A lot of the work we did was to figure out how to transform a book – an object you can hold in your hands – into a temporal-spacial event. We wanted our adaptation to be a work of art, and not just render the book onto the stage. That meant we needed a rigorous collaboration between all the artists working on the adaptation to make the show a music-driven, image-driven, and story-driven experience.”
Hannah Moscovitch, Adaptor, Fall on Your Knees

Finally, in the fall of 2021, four co-producing theatres joined forces – Canadian Stage, Neptune Theatre, the Grand Theatre and the National Arts Centre – to present Fall on Your Knees on their stages as part of their 2022–2023 seasons.

Fall on Your Knees will be presented in two parts, allowing audiences to savour the experience over two extraordinary evenings in the NAC’s Babs Asper Theatre.

Ticket and performance information will be released later this spring.

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The National Arts Centre, Vita Brevis Arts, Canadian Stage, Neptune Theatre, Grand Theatre  
production of 
Fall on Your Knees

Adaptation for the stage by Hannah Moscovitch and Alisa Palmer
Co-Created and Written by Hannah Moscovitch
Co-Created and Directed by Alisa Palmer
Production Dramaturgy by Mel Hague  
Based on the Novel by Ann-Marie MacDonald 

Lead donors Margaret Fountain, C.M., DFA (h) & David Fountain, C.M.
Developed with support from the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund
We acknowledge the support of The Canada Council for the Arts
Produced with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council

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