Amy Newman loves the way a beautiful, well-made costume that really suits the actor wearing it can really enhance their performance.
She has seen and experienced it for many years as an actress and costume designer with the Theatre Royal in Barkerville, and she was recently recognized for her work by an international film competition.
At the end of 2020, Newman won Best Costume Design from the Los Angeles Film Awards (LAFA) for the film Nam Sing: A Man for Gold Mountain, which documented the historic re-creation staged in Barkerville in 2019 and was produced by Winter Quarter Productions and the New Pathways to Gold Society (NPTGS).
For the film, Newman re-created the look and feel of the mid-19th century with costuming for the principles and many extras, including members of the Back Country Horsemen of B.C. North Cariboo Chapter.
Newman comes from a show business background, as her parents were musicians and were into theatre, and she developed an interest in fabrics and colours early on.
“I’ve always been used to the idea of dressup,” she said. “I know many, many of us little girls, we put on our pretty princess dress when we’re five, but for me, it definitely was beyond that. I always had this idea that there’s that sense you put something on and can become somebody different. I guess it wraps up into the fact of being an actor as well, the idea that as soon as you put on this ensemble, you can become somebody completely other than yourself, which, to me, is a really intriguing thing. As an actor, you want to do that, so to me, they’re really tied together, actually, very much for me.”
Newman remembers they had a lot of costumes around when she was a kid, and she would dress up in interesting clothes, and then she learned to sew because she was interested in fabrics and colours.
“My mother was very influential that way; she was such a theatrical person and raised me like that as well,” she said. “For me as a seamstress and a costumer, when I started to feel what fabric was like … in the olden times, you would really see status from the fabric they would be wearing. Fabrics really mean a lot; how they feel when you’re running it through the machine and putting the pieces together, there’s a very tactile experience about that.”
Newman learned to sew at school, and her mother taught her a bit. From there, she taught herself and started sewing clothes for herself, and she became interested in the idea of costume design.
Newman and her partner, Richard Wright, were the principal operators of the Theatre Royal in Barkerville for 16 years, until November 2019.
It was a natural move for Newman to be the costume designer for the Nam Sing re-enactment, which was filmed in September 2019. Wright had already been working with the NPGS on the project.
Newman sent costume designs to all of the cast members, which included members of the Theatre Royal cast and about 25 members of the Back Country Horsemen of British Columbia North Cariboo Chapter. Newman asked the riders to bring the kind of clothes they would wear on a ride in the backcountry and made a few adjustments from there.
“I really do thank the Back Country Horsemen and Horsewomen for their contributions because without that, it would have been very difficult to outfit everyone,” said Newman.
Nam Sing came to B.C. from China in 1858. He worked as a miner near Yale before heading for the Cariboo to run a pack train between Quesnel and Barkerville.
“As far as we can tell, he had no racism towards other people in his world at all,” said Newman. “He would work with anyone who wanted to work with him. He seems to have been a really interesting, hard-working individual, so New Pathways to Gold had this idea that what a great multi-cultural project this could be.”
The film shows Nam Sing pulling into Barkerville and the produce being unloaded.
“It was a massive undertaking to make this happen,” said Newman. “Barkerville, obviously, was great about allowing it all to happen, and particular thanks certainly goes to James Douglas and Julia Mackey and Dirk Van Stralen. Those three were really integral to helping, James particularly at Barkerville, and Julia and Dirk for helping organize the Back Country Horsemen to be part of the event. My partner, Richard Wright, was in charge of filming the whole re-enactment.”
Newman feels very honoured to have received the costume design award and is quick to share it with everyone who worked with her on the film.
“It was marvelous to have that experience, and to get a nice credit in a film as a costume designer was very exciting and a real honour,” she said. “Sure, I’m delighted to get this award, but it stands for all the effort that everybody put in, not just me. I had a lot of help on the day from Emily Lindstrom and Joy Peters. Even though the award goes to me, I really share it with many people who helped me to do my job the best that I could.”
Newman says the award also helps make her feel validated.
“In a way, I kind of feel like it validates all the work I’ve done at Theatre Royal, even though it has nothing to do with that, really,” she said. “My work at the theatre helped to inform what I did on this film. And it’s a validation from our peers. The LAFA is made up of industry professionals. It’s kind of saying the work we’re doing, it’s meeting certain standards.”
For Newman, one of the most important aspects of this award is the fact it brings Nam Sing’s story to a wider audience.
“I love the idea that it’s got such a powerful positive message,” she said. “Certainly, the film would not have been made without the initiative and the support of the New Pathways to Gold Society. They are integral to having made it happen.”
Although Newman now lives on the coast, she is still very committed to the Cariboo region.
Newman and Wright have been working with the NPGS on the Cariboo Waggon Road Restoration Project, and they are also hoping to create a feature-length multi-period film tied into the Cariboo Waggon Road. Newman and Wright are also continuing to work on their Bonepicker: Cariboo Gold Rush Backstories short films.
“There’s a big part of my heart that is still very attached to the Cariboo as a general region, to the Cariboo Waggon Road, to Barkerville, all the friends that I left behind there,” said Newman. “I miss the place every day.”
Between working at Barkerville and the Wells Casino, Newman spent nearly 20 years living half the year in Barkerville and Wells.
“That doesn’t just get erased,” she said. “It sticks with me and is a huge part of what my life has been, and that will never leave me. I hope it never does.”
In addition to LAFA, which is a monthly competition for filmmakers and screenwriters from around the world, the Nam Sing documentary is a finalist for Best Documentary and Best Costume Design in the Indie Short Fest and a semi-finalist in the Top Shorts Festival. It is also an official entry at the Archaeology Channel International Film Festival, where it will be available for viewing.
To view Nam Sing: A Man for Gold Mountain, visit vimeo.com/378387634.