Secrets. If you dig deep enough, every family has them.
Events, topics or people that aren’t talked about or acknowledged. Sometimes the secrets are buried so deep they simply disappear. And sometimes they’re revealed in surprising ways.
Between 1860 and 1948 more than 80,000 children were brought to Canada in officially sanctioned child migration programs. Some were treated well; others lived like indentured servants.
It’s estimated that one out of every 12 Canadians is a descendant of a homechild. But because many of these youngsters were ashamed of their past, many people know little or nothing about their parent or grandparent’s background.
“Homechild is a slice of Canadian history that not everyone is aware of,” says director Ross Stephanson. “It’s a story about immigrants overcoming obstacles and a family discovering elements of its past.”
Courtenay Little Theatre presents the play at the Sid Williams Theatre Sept. 30 and Oct. 6, 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee Oct. 2.
Playwright Joan MacLeod will be present on opening night and will host a question-and-answer session after the show. 2010 was The Year of the British Homechild in Canada.
The story revolves around retired dairy farmer, Alistair MacEachern. Now in his 80s, MacEachern was brought to Canada as a homechild in 1922.
He never spoke about the sister, Katie, he left behind. When MacEachern suffers a stroke, the long-kept secret is revealed and his family learns about their missing relative for the first time.
“It’s a complex play,” says Stephanson. “The characters go through the process of discovering, working through and resolving this mystery they never knew about. It’s a historical study of a sad situation but the characters are very lively and contemporary.”
“What fascinates me is the continual unravelling and un-layering of masks and protections that have been in place for years,” continues Ross. “It’s a very well researched play and despite the topic, is filled with joy and laughter.”
Two cast members, Gail Limber and Wendy Morin, are descendants of people in the homechild program. They will share their stories after the Oct. 2 matinee and members of the audience will be invited to do so as well.
CLT has also created a blog at www.courtenaylittletheatre.wordpress.com to discuss ideas, thoughts and memories of relatives that were brought to Canada under the homechild program.
“As always, rehearsal time is limited but the entire cast has been exceptionally well-prepared right from the beginning,” says Stephanson.
“There’s been a real stirring of wonderings and discoveries as we dive deeper into the pool of possibilities for each character. And Courtenay Little Theatre’s skilled technical crew is so supportive.”
The cast of eight is a blend of seasoned and new to theatre performers.
Although most of the characters are mature, nine-year old Monique Collins plays the young Katie left behind in Scotland. “Monique is very focused and professional,” notes Stephanson. “And the way she draws on her emotional bank account is quite amazing.”
As a director, Stephanson says his goal is to “affect the audience through telling a story and to make the characters so real and truthful that people leave the theatre feeling entertained, informed or educated.”
He was introduced to theatre when he played a tree in a kindergarten production.
“As a kid I enjoyed entertaining people even though being on stage scared the wits out of me. I love the magical transformations into character, of its ancient roots in the earliest days of humans sharing stories around a fire and of its incredible power to influence people’s thoughts, feelings and even actions.”
Stephanson and his wife moved to the Comox Valley in 2004. Before then he taught (mostly drama) at secondary schools in various locations in B.C. and Alberta for 20 years and was a school counsellor for 10. During that time he produced the award-winning anti-bullying video Pin the Name on The Bully.
On stage he’s preformed in many productions for Vancouver’s Arts Club theatre, the Langley Playhouse, Courtenay Little Theatre, TheatreWorks and other companies. He’s also won numerous awards for Best Actor.
Stephanson’s film and TV credits include CBC TV’s production The Homecoming, Columbia Pictures Elliot Boy, Sea Hunt and other productions.
Tickets for Homechild, $18 for evening performances and $15 for the matinee, are available at the Sid Williams Theatre.