‘Kind of a whirlwind’: Dear Rita playwright thrust into acting role

Lindsay Kyte didn’t expect to be on the Confederation Centre stage performing in the show she co-created.

But when one of the original cast members became unavailable about a week before opening night, in she came. The show, after all, must go on.

“Some people were coming to see the show and all of a sudden I appear and they’re like, ‘I knew you wrote it but I didn’t know you were in it.’ And I’m like, ‘Neither did I,'” Kyte said.

When it comes to Dear Rita, a show about legendary singer-songwriter Rita MacNeil, Kyte was the natural choice to step in. She is a trained actor and singer and, like MacNeil, she’s from Cape Breton.

As the playwright, she knew all the words. It just meant getting up at 4 a.m., doing some rewrites, rehearsing on stage while tweaking the script and going home to rehearse some more.

“It was kind of a whirlwind,” she said. “I didn’t sleep or eat much back then.”

Thankfully, she wasn’t flying on her own.

“Everyone was so kind and gracious and loving and pushing me and, you know, actually, ‘You’re over here, you’re over on stage,’ so it was great.”

Everyone was so kind and gracious and loving and pushing me and you know actually, ‘You’re over here, you’re over on stage,’ so it was great.— Lindsay Kyte

She hasn’t missed a beat, literally. It helps to pretend someone else wrote the script and approach it like a performer, she said.

“I love being on stage, I love seeing that audience, I love seeing the jokes land. It’s such a privilege and an honour.”

Kyte said she is inspired by MacNeil’s own words to her when they met backstage after a concert in Ontario about 10 years ago.

“I was so star-struck I could only speak in vowels, so [it] was like aaaaaaaaah, I lost all of my words,” said Kyte.

“Then she proceeded to give me a pep talk.”

‘I kind of makes me tear up’

Kyte recites words from that pep talk in the show.

“It kind of makes me tear up when I say it, and I say, if I could write everything in a letter to all of you this letter would say My Dear You, tell your stories, tell the stories of where you are from, and it’s about embracing who you are and all of what you think are your imperfections which are not, they’re the things that make you unique and beautiful, and tell your stories because somebody out there needs to hear those stories.”

Mainstreet PEI13:15Dear Rita

She was recently inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and is one of the most iconic East Coast performers of all time. Now the music and the life of Rita MacNeil will be celebrated in the new Charlottetown Festival show, Dear Rita. 13:15

Kyte credits the cast and director — as well as co-creator Mike Ross and his “mind-blowing” musical arrangements — for making the show a success.

“He’s a genius. Don’t tell him I said that, but he is.”

Dear Rita runs until Aug. 6 at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. It has been met with good reviews, including one from MacNeil’s own guitar player, Chris Corrigan, who is also in the show. 

“I asked Chris Corrigan what he thought Rita would think of it,” Kyte said.

 “He said he thought Rita would be really proud which means a lot to me.”

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