Alex Lifeson was hovering over the backstage craft table, picking over the tired veggie plate and smiling at a few young fans at the pre-concert meet and greet. It's a moment the Rush guitarist has experienced a thousand times in his 30 years touring in a hard rock band.
But this time something is different. As he chats with Much Music's Mike Campbell, suddenly three threatening hoodlums wrapped in plastic garbage bags and ski goggles come bursting backstage. After a brief scuffle, the guitarist is up-ended violently into a big garbage bin. Security guys race backstage and finally wrestle the cursing hoods out.
After he's helped out of the bin, Lifeson cracks a broad grin of delight. It's the wacky crew of Trailer Park Boys, shooting an episode in the halls beneath the Halifax Metro Centre. And Lifeson is the special guest, starring as who else Alex Lifeson.
The prog-rock legend is a huge fan of the racy TV mockumentary about trailer park buddies Julian and Ricky and their kooky circle of acquaintances. Lifeson was turned onto the Halifax-produced series last year by his wife. He tapes every episode and often invites his friends over to watch.
"I enjoy the show very much, and I love the way it's written," says Lifeson, during a brief break from shooting. "Every single character on the show is somebody that most people have known at some point in their lives. And that's the real charm of the show".
Last year, through some mutual friends, Lifeson and TPB director Mike Clattenburg began e-mailing ideas back and forth developing a script to get Lifeson onto the show. Even with the recent release of the band's latest album, Vapor Trails and a huge North American tour under way, Lifeson managed to free up a couple of days to come to Halifax to shoot his part.
Here's the scene: Bubbles (played by Mike Smith) wins a contest to be a Rush roadie for the night, but Sunnyland trailer park super Mr. Lahey cons him out of the tickets, leaving Bubbles, Ricky (Robb Wells) and the rum-and-coke sipping Julian (Jean Paul Tremblay) unable to attend the sold-out concert.
So the three decide to tunnel under the Metro Centre through the underground pipes. That explains the plastic protective wrapping, but then the story careens into a wild kidnapping adventure, a backstage fight with Lahey and his bare-chested assistant Randy, and finally into the big Rush concert.
As the lighting, sound and prop techs prep the backstage shot, the cast get ready for a rehearsal run-through. The groupies giggle nervously at the lunch table, a make-up person daubs a last-minute touch-up on Lifeson and Clattenburg walks through the scene with a camera in hand.
Then the plan changes.
We're scrapping the rehearsal and shooting it now, barks the exasperated assistant director Jeremy Timmons.
OK slates in! Lock it up roll sound!
The stream-lined crew are as locked-in as Rush is onstage able to quickly improvise and shift gears when the free-thinking director uncovers a better way to get the shot.
Lifeson quickly got into the off-the-cuff spirit of the show.
"I familiarized myself with the script, but Michael (Clattenburg) said we're going to do a bunch of takes and try different things so be open to it."
Watching Clattenburg and the actors work is a lesson in improvisational TV making. They run the garbage bin scene 10 times, and every time the dialogue changes a bit. But the skilled cast, including Lifeson, goes with the flow and instinctively react off each other.
Finally, the meet-and-greet scene is wrapped, and the whole crew moves to set up a different shot that finds the boys erupting from a steel grate in the Metro Centre floor.
This episode won't air until next spring, part of the next season of eight shows which will be shot over the next seven weeks around Halifax.
The lo-fi, low-budget series has been a cult hit for Showcase. With its free-flowing profanity, frequent gunplay and a host of unsavoury characters, it's definitely not ready for prime-time TV.
The first season was sold to the Australian Comedy Channel and was well received. And there's interest in the States, though the issue of the on-screen guns is more troubling to programmers.
It's not troubling to Lifeson, who takes the screwball comedy for what it is.
"That all adds to the chaotic insanity of the show. I think the first season was crazier...the scenes that were over the top were really over the top. Then they pulled back a bit and spent more time on developing the story itself".