Have an interest in history and a passion for the performing arts?
Organizers of a historical re-enactment of life in Delta during the First World War are looking for volunteers to play both speaking and non-speaking roles.
The event is set to take place Sept. 28 and 29 at Kirkland House in Ladner as part of BC Culture Days. Guests will make their way through the grounds and house, where about 20 to 25 re-enactors will stage brief scenes to offer a glance of what life was like during the Great War.
“We’ll primarily focus on the stories of families who’s sons or daughters enlisted,” said Peg Keenleyside, project director, producer and lead writer. “It’ll include the stories of names that you’ll see on the cenotaph here in Ladner.”
“It’s really quite extraordinary to think that almost every family would have had a son who was prepared — or two sons in often cases — who left the farm to go to France or wherever the Canadian Expeditionary Forces were being called to serve. So we really focused on that idea, like what was life like here without these young men, and of course how would you be able to understand what was happening to them in Europe at that time.”
Keenleyside explained that letters from the front took about a month to arrive back home, meaning folks who read in the local newspapers about battles where Canadian soldiers fought would have had a tough time finding out whether their loved ones had made it through.
“For parents, obviously, it must have been really really hard,” she said.
Keenleyside has been doing research since early this year to prepare for the project and said she found inspiration in the Delta Archives’ collection of meeting notes of the Delta Patriotic Women’s Society from 1914 through 1918. Over the course of several workshops this month, the actors will use those notes and other research to help develop their characters, lending the whole affair a greater sense of authenticity and realism.
“They were farm women who wouldn’t have seen each other much except at church, up until 1914, and then all of a sudden they’re meeting weekly and they’re making plans for how to raise money and knit socks,” she said. “Canadian women were a huge part of the war effort.”
As well, the project will touch on how women on the home front were empowered and motivated by the work they did in support of the war effort.
“It became politically motivated and by the end of the war, of course, 1918 was the year that suffrage came to Canada,” Keenleyside said. “So that’s a major outcome of the war too, that women’s suffrage was finally realized in Canada.”
|The names of those Deltans who fell in the First World War are engraved on the cenotaph in Ladner’s Memorial Park. (James Smith photo)|
Keenleyside said the event will give people, especially the young re-enactors, the opportunity to engage with history on an “experiential basis.”
“By focusing on a single character and then working outward from there, kids get a really strong empathetic understanding of history by building a character and finding more about what was going on their community,” she said. “They might otherwise … just drive by [these] things. They would never go and look at the cenotaph, they would never go and walk into Kirkland House or a small church that dates back 100 years. So this kind of project engages people in the idea [that] we’re connected to history.”
Keenleyside is looking for volunteers 14 years of age or older to play Delta residents circa 1914. Specifically she is looking for young men, age 16-24, to play those who enlisted to serve in the war, as well as men in the 40-plus age range.
“I am still really looking for young men who would be interested [in performing],” she said. “I would also have two of them who would like to engage with playing a young man who has enlisted in Delta in 1914, and I could very probably definitely use some young women as well, though I do already have four of five who seem interested.”
Prospective actors must be able to commit to attending the workshops, and applications will be taken by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) until the first workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 21, or interested parties can drop in during the workshop to learn more about the project.
“I have a strong story line, I have pretty clear in my mind what the arc of the story will be over the years, like I said, with the women’s group and the men’s group and the different stories of the families of the soldiers and nurses who enlisted, but as these things go you just have to wait for the whole thing to kind of emerge as a whole thing,” Keenleyside said.
“Because it does rely on what the people bring up in the workshops, right? I do groups where we study the material and then we try and get it on its feet and say, well let’s do a ‘what if’ and then we sort of build things from there. It’s fun, but obviously I don’t have a written script at this point, so the exact number of scenes and all of that will emerge as we go.”
Workshops are scheduled for Aug. 21, 25 and 28 at the Delta Museum Annex (4918 Delta St., Ladner). The first, dubbed “Everyday Life in Delta, 1914-1918,” will be led by the Delta Museum and Archives’ education coordinator, at which time Keenleyside will also start to assign characters for participants.
On Aug. 25, participants will learn about Delta’s history during the First World War and find out about the young men and women who enlisted. Local researcher Peter Broznitsky will be there to provide details.
At the third workshop, a representative from the Delta Museum and Archives will be showing actors how to research online and in the archives, and Keenleyside will be talking about how to develop actors’ historical characters.
Rehearsals will begin in September, taking place on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.
The re-enactments will take place Sept. 28 and 29 at Kirkland House (4140 Arthur Dr., Ladner), with specific show times to be announced in the coming weeks. Admission is free and there are no age restrictions for guests, however Kirkland house is not wheelchair accessible. Pre-registration is required online at bc.culturedays.ca/en, starting Sept. 1.