There’s no need to travel all the way to Scotland to discover its rich and often ruthless history daubed with blood.
When the lights are dimmed and a hush spreads across the audience in the versatile custom-designed Celtic Performing Arts Centre, Shelagh O’Brien keeps a keen eye on the stage as the script she penned comes to a three-dimensional life in “Great Scot!”
“I normally make my living as a live multi-camera entertainment television director, where you can have up to 20 or more cameras at the venue and everyone home is watching,” explains the multiple Gemini and Canadian Screen Award winner.
Long before O’Brien stepped behind the lens of a camera, much of her life was wrapped up in the world of Highland dancing. O’Brien was a Highland dance champion, as well as a member of the rigorous Alberta Ballet Apprentice Program.
“I was a Highland dancer in Edmonton since the age of six, traveling extensively and winning many championships. I owned and operated a studio there for 12 years. Then when I moved to Toronto and had my family, one of my daughters ended up being a highly regarded, champion Highland dancer as well,” she chimed.
“At that same time the Scottish Dance Company of Canada asked me to be their artistic director. I ran a company of up to 30 dancers and I was doing all their choreography and shows. We had the 10-time world champion in our dance cast, so the dancing was at a very high standard, and it kept my hand in the Celtic world.”
All through that time she continued to pursue a successful career as a television director, but her Celtic roots run deep.
In the early 2000s, O’Brien was invited by the College of Piping to direct their first sizable show, which she called “Highland Storm.”
“It was a perfect opportunity for me to combine both my experience in entertainment and Highland dance,” she noted.
O’Brien, quite simply, knows how to weave an original and great story. As a result, she was invited back to the College of Piping to inject life into the Celtic Performing Arts Centre this summer with a “spectacle” of a production.
“I got the call in June 2017 to create this year’s summer show,” she explained.
O’Brien envisioned a production that would magnify the venue while celebrating the heart and soul of the College.
With the support of world-class instructors at the College in her cast, O’Brien penned, directed and helped choreograph a breathtaking musical show called, “Great Scot!”
“I wrote scenes that utilized all the College disciplines – pipes, drums, Highland dance, step dance and fiddle to tell the story. There’s also traditional music and song, and the blending of the scenes using each discipline to tell a seamless story is something I really enjoyed.”
O’Brien continues to raise the bar, each and every day.