The stories told about world wars, death and families being separated are normally quite sobering to most, but a BritishColumbia woman has been touring communities across Canada, proving that even the most forlorn subjects can be madeinto something inspirational and heartwarming.
Critically-acclaimed playwright Julia Mackey has been performing her original tale called Jake’s Gift all around the country,telling a fictional tale of Jake, a WW2 veteran who returns to Normandy, France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day in order tosearch for his eldest brother’s grave, a brother who was killed during the war.
During his visit at Juno Beach, Jake befriends a 10-year-old girl named Isabelle who, with quick tongue and sweetdemeanor, convinces Jake to face his past demons and fears.
“He goes back with the intention to find the grave, she’s the person who encourages him to have that actual conversation with his brother and so it’s really that build up of 60 years of survivor’s guilt and getting to talk to your brother for the firsttime in 60 years.”
In a innovative way to portray the different characters, Jake’s Gift was created for Mackey in a one-woman show, where she personifies all characters involved with the production, which she explained was difficult at first, but after so many years ofperforming the play, separating each character is getting easier.
“I think in the first few performances I was still learning the transitions, the movements of the bodies and the changes ofthe voice of each character but now, because I’ve been with those characters for so long, they feel like real people to meand I feel like I sink back into who they are. The transitions of each of those characters feel very natural for me now.”
Mackey explained that this play was written from inspiration as she herself went to visit Juno Beach on the 60th anniversary of D-Day where she spent most of her time interviewing veterans on their experiences. But also gained inspiration forincorporating two different generations into the play when she discovered how much children were involved inremembering history.
Although the play is meant to be a drama, and the subject matter assumes a sobering historical time, Mackey wrote briefcomedic relief moments throughout in order to give it a roller coaster feel.
“When I was writing the play, I knew that the subject matter was serious, but that it had to have a lightness to it and alsowhen I was (in Normandy) in 2004, there was a lot of laughter, moments that were somber and times that wereheartbreaking to watch as these men come back. There was also a lot of joy in the reunions and laughing in the telling ofold stories.”
Not only is the play a way to celebrate veterans, but the play has also provided substantial support for local legions.
Jake’s Gift button packages are sold at the end of every production, which include three buttons which display a theme portrayed in the play. These buttons are created by Mackey’s partner, Dirk Van Stralen who is director and graphic designerand for the past six years, the packages as well as donations have resulted in over $35,000 being donated to Poppy TrustFunds and Legions all across Canada.
Jake’s Gift will be playing locally in Lacombe at the Terrace Ridge School on April 6th, where the proceeds of the performance will be going towards the school’s fundraiser and also will be performed at the Red Deer Legion on April 5th,during which all proceeds from Jake’s Gift button packages will be going to the legion’s Poppy Trust Fund.
Tickets for the family-friendly performance at Terrace Ridge are available at the school office for $20 or online atwww.terraceridge.wolfcreek.ab.ca, or by calling the office at 403-783-0050. The play will begin at 7 p.m.