Calgary Herald talks about the Letters

The Calgary Herald – Saturday, February 10, 2007
By: Tonya Zelinsky

Calgarians seek literary love in reality show

Every night when Roxanne closes her eyes to go to sleep, she is overcome by feelings of love and tenderness. Her head is dizzy, her stomach is queasy, and she is overwhelmed with excitement in anticipation of meeting her true love.

Roxanne has never met her Cyrano de Bergerac, but she knows him intimately through the many letters he’s written declaring his affection for her and bearing his heart and soul.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, some may scoff at such an antiquated form of wooing in our text-messaging world, but Corkscrew Media and GAPC Entertainment are hoping TV viewers will swoon over the thought that such old-fashioned literary romance may not be dead.

The Letters 2, a romance reality TV show about to hit the airwaves, is rediscovering the art of courtship by pairing one woman with 10 male suitors in the hope that love will prevail.

The only catch is she won’t actually meet her dream suitor until the end of the show.

Created by producer Hoda Elatawi of GAPC, the idea behind The Letters 2 is to create an emotional and intellectual connection between two people by taking the pressures of physical attraction out of the equation.

Suitors will try to win Roxanne’s heart with love letters.

In keeping with the air of anonymity, the cast was assigned pseudonyms to protect their identities.

Roxanne is based on the character of the same name in Edmond Rostand’s play, Cyrano de Bergerac, in which a suitor employs a writerly friend to win his love’s heart.

The suitors were assigned pen names based on great writers such as Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Burns.

“We hope the connection goes beyond the writing,” says Elatawi.

“We wanted it to be real. We hope it’s romantic. What we really want to accomplish is to take these people on a journey that has taught them a little bit more about themselves.”

The first season of The Letters, which was filmed in Ontario and aired nationally on Book Television, Canadian Learning Television and Access in October 2005, was a solo project for GAPC. This time around, the company has partnered with Calgary-based Corkscrew Media.

Production on the eight-part TV series took place over 12 days in December at the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C. Hosted by Ottawa poet Sylvie Hill, the show features an all-Calgary cast.

This is Corkscrew director Blake Horobin’s first reality show. He helped cast the role of Roxanne and her suitors. About 30 Calgary women, between the ages of 25 and 40, interviewed for Roxanne, while about 50 Calgary men of the same ages wanted the chance to capture her heart.

“I didn’t have a real clear vision of who (Roxanne) should be,” says Horobin. “I based it on personality and the thought that I would know her when I saw her. That’s exactly what happened.”

Male casting was trickier, he adds.

“For the sake of storytelling, you don’t want the same personality types or the same physical look. At the same time, I was feeling almost protective of this woman. These are real people with real lives, you don’t want to mess with that too much.”

Roxanne, whose true identity will not be revealed until the show airs in March, says she’s at a point in her life where she wants change. On a leave of absence from a high-pressure corporate environment, Roxanne is looking for a relationship based on more than physical attraction.

“I want to find a career I love to touch my soul, and I want to find a soulmate I can share my life with that maybe isn’t traditionally the man I’ve been (attracted to),” she says. “I want someone who loves unconditionally, and has different things to offer me other than what I was looking for before,” says the 30-something woman.

The 10 men vying for her affections include a cowboy, a musician, a preacher and a pretty boy. Roxanne will not meet her match until the finale, but she will get to know them through their letters.

Unlike Season 1, The Letters 2 has suitors taking classes from writing coaches, working on projects such as crafting a short story to writing a song.

Every night they recite their work to Roxanne, who stands atop a balcony hidden from their view.

She is then given copies of their writing and must decide who will be eliminated the next morning.

The men also compete in a set of daily challenges for the chance to gain a little extra insight or to win one-on-one time with her. To maintain anonymity, both Roxanne and the suitor are blindfolded upon meeting and can only speak to each other through the host.

Roxanne says, “I really like a man who enjoys a challenge, and the men who have been winning the challenges are the ones I’m attracted to. Mostly because I’ve talked to them behind a screen and there’s that connection, but I’m attracted to these men because they are a mirror of me with that desire to win challenges, and be strong and competitive.”

Keeping Roxanne and the suitors apart was a bit of a logistical nightmare, says Elatawi. With her own production assistant, Roxanne was left alone for the most part, taking her meals in her room every day and venturing outside only when required.

The suitors, on the other hand, were able to roam the resort freely. To keep Roxanne and the suitors apart, the film crew implemented an almost covert military operation. Every few minutes walkie-talkies could be heard sputtering to life throughout the resort as the crews tracked the whereabouts of cast members at all times.

“The curiosity is killing me,” says suitor William Blake.

“But in order to keep the integrity of the show, you have to maintain that confidentiality. I (want) to see this person, but it would take away from the anticipation if I found out her identity,” he says.

“I want the surprise.”

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