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Saanich novelist wrote latest work with choir in mind

Cadillac Cathedral When and where: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at the McPherson Playhouse (Victoria); Sunday, 3 p.m., at the Port Theatre (Nanaimo) Tickets: $25 adults, $20 students and seniors at, 250-386-6121, 250-754-8550 or tickets.
Jack Hodgins collaborated with Vancouver men's choir Chor Leoni for a hybrid performance of storytelling and song in Cadillac Cathedral.

Cadillac Cathedral

When and where: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at the McPherson Playhouse (Victoria); Sunday, 3 p.m., at the Port Theatre (Nanaimo)

Tickets: $25 adults, $20 students and seniors at, 250-386-6121, 250-754-8550 or

According to the usual order of things, a novel might be adapted to a script, then a movie or a play.

Audience members then leave the theatre saying things like “I pictured the lead actor differently,” “I’m sad they left out the storyline about so and so,” and “It was good, but I liked the book better.”

That won’t be the case with Cadillac Cathedral. Saanich author Jack Hodgins said that while a novel of the same name has been published, it won’t be released until the hybrid storytelling and musical performance is staged this week.

“I didn’t want people in the audience sitting there thinking, ‘Oh that’s not what they said in the book,’ ” Hodgins (The Invention of the World, The Master of Happy Endings) said in an interview.

Cadillac Cathedral is a result of a collaboration between Hodgins and Vancouver’s Chor Leoni men’s choir.

The story follows a retiree who spends his time giving old cars new life. When a member of the rural Vancouver Island town dies, community members rally to pick up the body in style, embarking on a road trip in a refurbished 1930s hearse. New characters and adventure meet them along the way.

During the performance, Hodgins will alternate story readings with performances by the choir, which has selected favourite songs as well as prepared new ones for the show.

They will be joined onstage by fiddler Cam Wilson and a band including guitar, mandolin, banjo and string bass.

To be fair, Cadillac Cathedral didn’t begin as a novel —it was created with the intention of performance first.

Hodgins wrote the script with the choir in mind, following a successful collaboration with Chor Leoni in 2010. They were paired as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival that year under the title Pacific Medley. Hodgins was asked to select excerpts from his work to read at the festival, and after each excerpt, the choir would sing a song they’d chosen that related to the reading. There was no rehearsal.

“I was standing in the wings and I heard their first song at the same time the audience did. It was exciting, they are a wonderful choir,” he said. “And of course I was very nervous. But I guess the first thing I read must have been funny because it got laughter from the audience and from the choir. So I thought, ‘Oh, I might as well relax.’ ”

The performance went off without a hitch.

“We had such a good time and I felt so good working with them that we talked about doing an original project,” Hodgins said.

Cadillac Cathedral came together with more planning. Hodgins wrote the script with storytelling-and-song format in mind. He then brought it back to the choir, which approved it for the joint project and began preparing songs. It was a different process from Hodgins’ usual book-writing routine.

“I had to be conscious of the fact that there would be songs involved in it and I had to realize that it would be limited in length,” he said. “So I had these restrictions that I don’t normally have if I’m writing a novel.”

The idea of expanding it into a novel came much later.

“It wasn’t until I had completed the script and felt that it was right for what it was that I began to see all kinds of places where the reading experience could substitute for the singing parts,” he said.

Hodgins called the project fun and said it offered him a different experience as an author.

“It just adds a whole different perspective. When you write a novel, it’s just you, you, you, you, you, until you want somebody else to read it,” he said. “It’s a completely different experience, from a writer’s point of view.”

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