As we climbed the narrow winding staircase to see Erin Macklem’s nook where she created This Little Light, it’s hard not to notice the history on the walls. But what stands out the most, is her love of the Belfry Theatre.
“The Belfry is the best place to work,” she said with a beaming smile.
“Everyone that works here is so inspired by the work, loves theatre in general and loves the people that they work with.”
Macklem — the Belfry’s artistic associate and outreach coordinator — has put 10 years of thought and two years of production into This Little Light, her musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic The Little Match Stick Girl.
The original story begins on New Years Eve with a young girl selling matches on the street trying keep her family alive. Failing to sell any matches, she fears going home. Instead, she takes shelter in an alley and sits down.
She burns her remaining matches to stay warm, and as she burns the last of her stock, she sees several visions, including a Christmas tree and a holiday feast. She sees a shooting star; then remembers her dead grandmother saying that a falling star means someone is dying.
As she lights the next match, she sees a vision of her grandmother, the only person to have treated her with love and kindness. After running out of matches, the child dies in the alley, and her grandmother carries her soul to heaven. The next morning, passers-by find the child dead, frozen with a smile on her face, and try to guess the reason for the burnt-out matches beside her.
“I know (The Little Match Girl) is the saddest Christmas story,” she explained. “I was exposed to the story when I was in elementary school. I cried, it was so sad, but I was kind of outraged at the same time. I felt like it was so sad and there was no redemption in the story.”
But Macklem rises above the darkness of the original and gives her character in This Little Light a chance to become new again, a process she found inspiring. With help from the Canadian College of Performing Arts, the George Jay Elementary Choir, Central Middle School Choir and Victoria High School Choir, Macklem brings a uniquely Fernwood feel to her musical.
Along with Musical Director Brad L’Ecuyer and Director Jane Johanson, Macklem has morphed the show into community-minded production aimed to appeal to all age groups.
Friends and family of the award-winning playwright and Fernwood resident might notice some parallels with some of Macklem’s characters, as she draws from inspirations from her relationships in the community.
“To me that’s what writing is. You are taking everything in, processing it and spitting it back out through your own life experiences,” she said.
This Little Light runs from Dec. 10 to 23 at the Belfry Theatre.