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‘Very moving’: Screenwriters on the Tim Hortons musical

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A snowstorm, a Tim Hortons and a group of Canadian artists loosely sums up ‘The Last Timbit,’ a musical hitting the stage in Toronto this month. However, the writers involved explain that it is much more than that. To them, it is a celebration of community, Canadians and togetherness.

The production is based on a snowstorm that happened in Sarnia, Ont., in 2010. According to The Weather Network, it created whiteout conditions so bad on Ontario’s Highway 402 that 360 motorists were left stranded and a good number of people were forced to hunker down inside a local Tim Hortons.

Speaking with CTV News on Friday, two of the writers, Annika Johnson and Britta Johnson, shared their experiences working with the cast and writing the musical.

They explained that they were approached to partake in the writing of the musical in the fall of 2023 by a member of the advertising agency, Gut Toronto.

Here’s what they had to say about working on the production.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

Tell me about this show

Annika: We were approached to write this show back in the fall by someone from Gut Agency who had this idea about this Tim Hortons musical, and she reached out to us first kind of being like ‘do you think this could work?’ and we were like ‘I think it actually could,’ and it has been surprisingly easy to write it. It’s based on a true story that they gave us about a group of people who were stranded in a Tim Hortons during a snowstorm, and then we have added this extra element…

Britta: The show is a celebration – of this iconic brand, but more so about community and Canadians and community with each other – and it’ll make people laugh and feel moved and feel community amongst themselves and we are really honoured to be writing it.

Anika Johnson (left) and Britta Johnson (right) are writers of ‘The Last Timbit’, a musical that’s coming to Toronto in June. They spoke with CTV News about the experience, and their thoughts on the production, on Friday. May 31, 2024. (CTV News)

It seems like a lot more than a commercial for Tim Hortons, it seems like there is a real story here.

Britta: It’s a musical first, it’s a full-length story with a wild cast of characters, and we actually found it really easy, when we were first approached for it, we thought it was a bit of a bananas idea, but as soon as we started to write it, the truth is that like Tim Hortons is kind of woven into the fabric of so many of our lives at such critical moments of our lives – it’s pretty easy to mine it for stories that are funny and moving and specific…

Annika: And it’s a gathering of space that is so equalizing, like when we’re in there, we all kind of meet at the same place on the same footing, and so it’s an amazing opportunity to bring different characters together and see how they interact. And I think in writing it, we’ve had the best time writing it, and I feel like there’s such a need for work that celebrates, or art that celebrates, our need for community and connection, and also just pure fun and joy and like how many amazing things can happen, unexpected moments, especially when you think everything is going wrong. But there aren’t that many places that would support this – there are a lot of brands that could perhaps commission a musical and it would be a lot more of a reach and feel like a commercial, this doesn’t feel like a commercial because to me, this is so ubiquitous in our culture that it’s just kind of, it’s our Canadian meeting place, it’s our village square where everybody meets each other and anything can happen. So it was pretty effortless…

Were there any surprises, anything difficult, or anything that stood out that was hard about writing this?

Britta: I mean the most surprising part was what an incredible time we’ve had, and again, it felt so outlandish when we first got the assignment, and it’s been quite effortless and joyful. We as a team of three writers have quite constantly made each other laugh really hard, we love the team we’re working with, we kind of keep looking around and can’t believe our good luck at this very specific gift of a project that we’ve been given here.

Annika: I might add that today when the actors were singing through everything I was very moved looking at all of them, because there’s something so incredible about the fact that Tim Hortons did this – like they are investing money in employing an amazing group of artists and really supporting their work. It’s remarkable, like theatres are really struggling right now, coming out of the pandemic has been so difficult, and Tims took these artists here and I find it very moving, it really speaks to the sense of community engagement that the brand is about – I’m not even saying that because I’m working for them, it’s very real, it’s been a very profound experience for us.

Cast members of ‘The Last Timbit’ are seen here.

Is there anything that surprised you – how easy it was?

Annika: Yeah, we were surprised at how easy it was. It’s been interesting, and really fun to interface with the corporation, because normally we’re working in theatre where we’re not answering to a business that has a specific agenda, and they’ve been remarkably hands-off, and then every once in awhile we get a little nugget of feedback that gives us a window into just how the mechanics work over there, or what matters to them, and their audiences, and I have really enjoyed that part of it. And we’ve also gotten a couple of really good windows into behind the scenes, like we got to go into the test kitchen and like try some Timbits that aren’t on the market yet. That was really, really fun, too.

Is there anything you want to add, anything you want to stress?

Annika: Well we just really hope that people come out and see this and that it will have a life beyond this, because I actually think it’s a really meaningful show, it’s surprisingly emotional and it’s really fun, it’s really funny, we tried to write the songs to be as fun and poppy and catchy and electric as possible, and we want to create – it’s such a complicated time in the world right now, we wanted to create a piece of theatre that wouldn’t be trivial or slight at all, that when people came into it they would leave feeling better about themselves and feeling better about the communities that they live in.

‘The Last Timbit’ will be onstage at the Elgin Theatre from June 26 – 30.

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