Production at Red Deer Legion reflects on veteran’s return to Juno Beach

Memories move us, can define us and more than often, inspire us to journey forward.

In the theatre production Jake’s Gift, through Jake’s journey, we learn not only about the legacy of remembrance, but we also get to see a true reflection of life and the effects of war spanning across many generations.

Juno Productions’ Jake’s Gift will be presented at the Red Deer Royal Canadian Legion on April 21st.

The timeless production features the talent of one woman, B.C.-based playwright and actress Julia Mackey.

Jake’s Gift is a tribute to all veterans. The story follows a Canadian Second World War veteran Jake who travels back to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

“It’s his first time back since he landed on D-Day when he was there during the war and his main reason for going back is to find the grave of his eldest brother who was killed overseas during the war,” explained Mackey.

“This is a big trip for him, to try to find his brother’s grave. While he happens to be on Juno Beach, kind of looking out and remembering what it was like, this little girl shows up named Isabelle and she’s 10-years-old.”

Isabelle and Jake form a lasting friendship over a three-day period, while Jake heals and deals with unresolved ghosts. The character of Jake was first developed by Mackey in 2002 through a workshop exercise. As she began to finesse the character, slowly the story Mackey wanted to tell, Jake’s story, became a war story about three brothers from the prairies who had a connection to D-Day.

Eventually, Mackey was inspired to attend the 60th anniversary of D-Day in France in 2004. “I just had this instinct that that was where I was supposed to go to find the rest of the story,” she said.

Mackey spent a week attending ceremonies and interviewing as many veterans as possible. “Even though it was a little bit intimidating to go up to perfect strangers and ask them to talk to you about their experience during the war, the veterans that I met were so kind and so willing to talk to me about their experiences during the war but also what it was like to be back,” she said.

After her return, Jake’s Gift then became a combination of the stories veterans told Mackey, her own experience on Juno Beach and a little bit of her own imagination.

Through Juno Productions, Mackey, along with director and stage manager Dirk Van Stralen, began touring Jake’s Gift across Canada in 2007.

Mackey said Van Stralen and herself find it very meaningful to take the story of Jake back to many of the small, rural communities where many of the soldiers originated, as the timeless story resonates amongst many generations.

“The number of families in the prairies who have a connection to soldiers that either never came home or have veterans in their family is so huge,” she said. “Everybody we meet in our audience has someone who has a story like Jake’s.”

Immediately following the conclusion of the production, Juno Productions will present members of the Lacombe Royal Canadian Legion with a special print titled ‘Fallen Heroes’.

Button packages will also be available for purchase. One hundred per cent of the profits raised from the button sales will be donated back to the Red Deer Legion’s poppy trust fund.

Jake’s Gift will be presented at the Red Deer Royal Canadian Legion (2810 Bremner Ave.) on April 21st. The show is presented by the Red Deer Legion Pipe Band, who will also open up the evening with a few musical numbers.

Doors open at 6 p.m. and the performance will start at 6:45 p.m. The show runs for 65 minutes, without an intermission and is recommended for ages 10 and up.

Tickets are $20 and are available at the Red Deer Legion front desk or from any Red Deer Legion Pipe Band member. For tickets or more information, contact Arnie MacAskill at 403-782-7183.

Jake’s Gift will also be presented at the Ponoka Legion on April 17th.

For more information, visit www.jakesgift.com.

news@lacombeexpress.com