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‘You need to see this show,’ arts columnist writes

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MINTY: Haunting ‘Sea of Stories’ moved me with music and history of small-town White Rock

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

Sea of Stories is an important cultural landmark. Peninsula Productions, in partnership with the City of White Rock and funding from Heritage Canada, created this original musical as a tribute to the unique seaside town of White Rock in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.

Written by Shawn Macdonald, directed by Peninsula Productions’ artistic director Wendy Bollard, and with music composed by world-renowned boogie-woogie pianist Dominik Heins, the play opened at Coast Capital Playhouse on Aug. 9 and continues there until Saturday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. (Wednesday through Saturday), with 2:30 p.m. matinées on weekends. Tickets are $13 for students, $22 for seniors, and $27 for adults. Call 604-536-7535 for tickets or visit peninsulaproductions.org.

This new musical is not full of show-stopping production numbers that are Broadway bound. It is a charming, sensitive piece that tells a history of a small city. More than that, though, the cultural heritage of Semiahmoo First Nation looms large in the telling. The story haunts me, and told me things I did not know – but should. We all should know the history. It gives us understanding and appreciation of our piece of Canada we all share.

Sam Bob play X’ya:s, the Great Transformer. He tells the story of the Semiahma people. Semiahmoo is the place, Semiahma are the people, we are told. X’ya:s is an immortal that falls in love with a Cowichan princess. Their marriage is forbidden, but the lovers are determined. X’ya:s picks up a huge white boulder and tosses it as far as he can. Where it lands is where he will build his new clan. The big white rock landed in a pleasant, crescent bay called Semiahmoo.

It is a lovely story, but the fate of Semiahmoo First Nation has been a struggle. Please forgive me if I am not using the Semiahma and Semiahmoo correctly. I didn’t see the script, or all the research playwright Macdonald collected to write this play. And internet sites didn’t give me much information either. My only source for the story of X’ya:s hurling the big white rock came from Sea of Stories. We need to know these things, especially if we live as neighbours to White Rock. The Semiahmoo Reserve was established by the Canadian government in 1887. The reserve is small, and the population dwindles. From 1942 to 1996, 172 acres, or more than half the reserve’s area, was leased by the band to the Municipality of Surrey for recreational “parkland” purposes. The City of White Rock and the City of Surrey both used the land, known as “Semiahmoo Park,” for landfill and municipal infrastructure purposes. In 2014, the First Nation announced it was endeavouring to remediate the soil, which was contaminated by the municipalities’ usage. Water supply is unsafe, and “we have to replace the whole water system here on the reserve,” said Semiahmoo First Nation councillor Joanne Charles, who was at the gala opening of Sea of Stories.

We learned of the current problems of the Semiahmoo through a school project report given by Jeffery, a reluctant teenaged newcomer to White Rock. Played brilliantly by Anthony Goncharov, this typical teen goes from “whatever” responses to really caring about all the people of White Rock. Transformed?

Cathy Wilmot plays Anita, Jeffrey’s mom. Wilmot has just returned from two years at the Boston Conservatory where she earned an MFA in musical theatre. She is just one of three people in Canada to hold this degree, so well done! Wilmot has performed in more than 40 musicals, so really has the experience. Since this was the first musical for Peninsula Productions, and the first one written by composer Heins, experienced people in the cast was a welcome bonus. Wait until you hear her sing “Anita’s Song.”

Henry Thrift may have milled the wood for the original White Rock pier, and a small population of settlers may have agitated for cityhood independent of Surrey, and so many other small bits of White Rock history may have had an influence on what we have today. White Rock is not just a town for the retired, or a small space allotted for First Nations and incomers. Sea of Stories shows us more. You need to see this show. It is more than just musical theatre entertainment – it is even more than just history. It is personal. Thanks to Peninsula Productions for instigating the production. It’s our job now to attend Sea of Stories and pass along the lore and the culture.

melminty@telus.net

Lovely Review in the Vancouver Sun!

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Theatre review: Sea of Stories chronicles White Rock histories
More from Jerry Wasserman
Published on: August 17, 2017 | Last Updated: August 17, 2017 8:00 AM PDT

Sea of Stories

Until Aug. 26 | Coast Capital Playhouse, White Rock

Tickets and info: $13-$27 at peninsulaproductions.org

The complex of municipalities traditionally known as the Lower Mainland and now officially called Metro Vancouver can sometimes seem like one giant, undifferentiated traffic jam or real estate scam. It’s useful to remember that each component of this megalopolis has its own history and civic identity.

The small seaside city of White Rock, with the help of Canada 150 funding, has chosen to tell some of its stories theatrically.
Sea of Stories, scripted by Shawn Macdonald and directed by Wendy Bollard, is a low-key musical pageant intertwining Aboriginal and settler histories of White Rock with a contemporary family play. Some of the in-jokes are obviously aimed at the locals. But as a come-from-away non-White Rockian (non-White Rocker?), I found much of it enjoyably entertaining and informative.

The sea god X’ya:s the Transformer (Sam Bob) looms over the proceedings and provides the original creation tale. He recounts how the Semiahmoo people came to be (via his marriage with a Cowichan princess), and how the great white rock that gave the area its settler name came to be there (he threw it in anger).

In the contemporary story, single mother Anita (Cathy Wilmot) and her teenage son Jeffrey (fine young actor Anthony Goncharov) have moved to White Rock to help Anita’s mother Ellen (Nancy Ebert) transition into a retirement complex. Jeffrey hates it here (“It’s so boring!”), feisty Ellen doesn’t really need or want Anita’s help and Anita wonders whether she can ever make this new place feel like home.

When Jeffrey gets a social-studies assignment to research local history, the play flashes back to 1914 when politician Henry T. Thrift (Cory Haas) led the movement to incorporate the city and build the White Rock Pier, and to 1957, the year White Rock was finally incorporated.
From left, Kirsten Kwong, Anthony Goncharov, Jessie Chan, Miranda Gilbert and Cory Haas are featured in Sea of Stories, which runs until Aug. 26 at Coast Capital Playhouse in White Rock. BEVERLY MALCOM / PNG
Thrift dreamed big. He imagined White Rock becoming a major port, “the Naples of the Pacific coast.” He’s also the subject of a sweet little 1914 traffic joke when his wife (Paige Gibbs) matter-of-factly comments that his Cloverdale meeting will be over at three so he should be home by 6:30.

The 1957 plot revolves around teenage Ellen (Kirsten Kwong), her friend (Miranda Gilbert) and sister (Jessie Chan), who talk about diving off the pier and almost seeing Elvis. But its most memorable line belongs to an adult who warns that the tax base is too small for the city to go it alone, so “White Rock is going to come crawling back to Surrey in a few years begging for forgiveness.”

Jeffrey’s assignment eventually connects him with X’ya:s, who helps Jeffrey eloquently detail the history of wrongs suffered by the Semiahmoo people to the present day. It’s a strong corrective and nice contrast to the lighter tone of the piece.

That tone is sustained in part through musical interludes. The standouts are a funny song about the ongoing arguments between developers and preservationists, and a lively number about Peace Arch Hospital, with choreography by Keri Minty. Composer and musical director Dominik Heins provides some tasty piano licks, with Mireille Perez on bass and Adam Van Loo soloing on sax.

Alan Brodie’s kaleidoscopic projections create a handsome visual backdrop of White Rock history and geography to complement the Sea of Stories enacted on the stage.

MINTY: Old photos will create backdrop for musical about small-town life

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Peninsula Productions is looking for old photos like this one for its summer production is an original musical, Sea of Stories, a musical about life in small-town Canada. (Photo: Submitted)

MINTY: Old photos will create backdrop for musical about small-town life

Collected images will be projected as part of the production, which is part of the Canada 150 Celebration

Wow. What a summer we are having so far. Blue skies, sunshine and snapping photos just seem to go together.

I try not to take photos or be in them. Those captured images just seem to be outside my artistic abilities. But, betcha lots of you out there have photos from way back. You know, before the digital era and photos (like books) were printed.

Peninsula Productions is looking for these older photos. They need to be of White Rock from days gone by. Do you have pictures of the White Rock Swim Club? Pictures of the Silver Moon or any of the dances that happened in White Rock in the ’50s? Pictures of White Rock during the Second World War?

Why is Peninsula Productions looking for these photos? Simple. Their summer production is an original musical, Sea of Stories, a musical about life in small town Canada. The play centres on the history of White Rock, its people, its triumphs and its challenges.

The collected images will be projected as part of the production. Lovely concept, and the whole project is part of the Canada 150 Celebration.

Email your photos to: info@peninsulaproductions.org.

Sea of Stories runs at the Coast Capital Playhouse (1532 Johnston Road, White Rock) from Aug. 9 to 26, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Call the box office for tickets at 604-536-7535 (Wednesdays through Saturdays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.). Tickets are $13 for students, $22 for seniors and $27 for adults.

I know – it isn’t until August. But tickets are on sale already – and already there is a big demand. So I wanted to get it out to you now. Then I can’t be blamed if this is something you wanted to see and then couldn’t get tickets because you waited too long.

Here are the people involved in this production – you probably know a few – writer Shawn Macdonald, composer/music director Dominik Heins (his first musical), director Wendy Bollard, assistant director Cory Haas, choreographer Keri Minty, set, lighting, projection design Alan Brodie and costume designer Ines Ortner.

The cast has a few familiar names as well: Sam Bob, Cathy Wilmot, Nancy Ebert, Anthony Goncharov, Cory Haas, Theo James Matthew Budd, Tegan Verheul, Paige Gibbs, Kirsten Kwong, Jessie Chou, Miranda Gilbert and Andrew Woods.

Sure, that is a long list of people to wade through, and there are even more people involved in the production. Live theatre is all about real people. In Sea of Stories, moments of times past in White Rock will be captured by old photos and new (ish) people. It’s history, art, culture and a bit of Canada all wrapped up as entertainment. Love it!

Great Article in the Irish Independent

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Jaki goes to Canada for play
March 18 2017 12:00 AM

Dundalk playwright Jaki McCarrick has travelled to Canada where her play ‘The Belfast Girls’ is being staged as part of the Vancouver Irish festival CelticFest this week.
At a time when the play’s theme of ‘fallen women’ poignantly resonates with the Tuam mother and baby home scandal, the production by the British Columbian theatre company Penninsula Productions, has received enthusiastic reviews.
‘BELFAST GIRLS has just opened in British Columbia to a wonderful reception – there’s been great praise for this show,’ a delighted Jaki told The Argus.

The production is directed by Wendy Bollard and the opening night of the Canadian premiere was sold out. Afterwards, the cast were treated to a backstage visit by none other than Hollywood actress Julia Stiles, who saw and loved the show.
BELFAST GIRLS opened at the Coast Capital Playhouse in White Rock on March 11 from where it travelled to the Cultch Theatre, Vancouver, where it runs from March 15th to 18th as part of later shows are part of the Vancouver Celtic Festival.

Opening as it did, during International Women’s Day and when confirmation of the mass graves of over 700 babies in Tuam and the abuse of the young woman ‘Grace’ in a foster home dominates the news, the play is a timely reminder that women remain in a vulnerable position in society.
Jaki’s play tells the story of women who sought escape from the bleak life in the workhouse during the famine years by availing of an offer to transport ‘fallen women’ to Australia. It follows the story of ‘The Belfast Girls’ as they journeyed by sea to what they hoped was a new and better life in Australia.

BELFAST GIRLS was first developed at the National Theatre Studio, London in 2012 and while on the surface it is a feminist ‘Irish Famine’ story, Jaki also saw it a metaphor for the banking crisis, showing how the state takes advantage of the most vulnerable in society during a time of crisis.
This is the third international production of the play as it was previously staged in Chicago where it was Windy City Times Critics’ Pick, although it has yet to be staged in Ireland.

‘Wendy Bollard is a wonderful director and she has assembled a cracking cast and production team,’ said Jaki.’ The all-female cast includes Mariam Barry, Olivia Sara Grace, Tegan Verheul, Paige Gibbs, Amelia Ross.’
Jaki attended the opening night of the Vancouver run and will also be taking part in a Question and Answers event after the show on March 16.

‘I know a lot of writers don’t attend their shows abroad but I feel differently about this,’ she says. ‘Firstly, I’m a female playwright and the work of female playwrights is performed abroad much less, especially if it’s from a relative newbie like myself or if the work is quite political like Belfast Girls. I want to be of support to the piece and the people pouring their heart and souls into it.’
‘Belfast Girls’ was listed as one of the top five attractions of Vancouver’s CelticFest by the Vancouver Sun.

Having attended the first night, Jaki praised director Wendy Bollard & Peninsula Productions for their ‘splendidly slick and thoughtful Belfast Girls. A poetic production full of confident and intelligent choices – and with a magnificent cast, too!’
In addition, a staged reading of BELFAST GIRLS was presented by New York’s Pond Theatre Company on March 13th in New York.

Fantastic Interview with Jaki McCarrick in the Peace Arch News

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