Julia Mackey and Art Heximer at Juno Beach June 6, 2004, for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. June Heximer photo

Julia Mackey and Art Heximer at Juno Beach June 6, 2004, for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. June Heximer photo

Moving story of WWII veteran’s reluctant return to Juno Beach being performed Nov. 23 in Quesnel

Nov. 23 presentation of Jake’s Gift at Quesnel Legion is a dinner theatre performance

When Wells playwright and actress Julia Mackey and director Dirk Van Stralen bring their award-winning play Jake’s Gift to Quesnel on Nov. 23, it will be the final performance of 2019.

Coming off a busy fall tour through the Prairies and the Lower Mainland, they are looking forward to bringing Jake’s Gift closer to home one last time during this, the 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings.

In the play, Jake, a Canadian Second World War veteran, reluctantly returns to Normandy, France, for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. While revisiting the shores of Juno Beach, Jake encounters Isabelle, a precocious 10-year-old from the local village whose inquisitive nature and charm challenge the old soldier to confront some long-ignored ghosts — most notably, the wartime death of his eldest brother, Chester.

Mackey, who wrote and performs the play, and Van Stralen are currently in North Vancouver. They’ve been touring the play through the Prairies since mid-October and opened a four-performance run at the Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver on Remembrance Day.

The Nov. 23 show is being presented by the Quesnel and District Community Arts Council and Royal Canadian Legion Branch 94 at the Legion. Mackey says it has been quite a few years since they’ve done the show in Quesnel.

“The Legion in Quesnel especially has always been a great supporter of the show, and we’re thrilled to be back there,” she said.

Jake’s Gift started as an idea 17 years ago.

In 2002, Mackey and Van Stralen did a Master Characterization Workshop in Vancouver, which was a three-week intensive program where each person involved chose a mask they were drawn to and created a character. At the end of the workshop, they removed the mask and hopefully had a full-blown character.

“At the end of that time, I had created this character of Jake, and the mask that I was drawn to looked like an old man to me, so I started to write this story about these brothers from the Prairies and their connection to the Second World War,” said Mackey.

After the workshop was done, Mackey didn’t feel finished with the story, and she recalls she kept telling Van Stralen she felt she needed to write more for Jake.

A year later in 2003, they were watching The National when Peter Mansbridge was doing a report about the 60th anniversary of D-Day coming up in June 2004.

“I just had a gut feeling that was where I was going to find the story,” said Mackey. “I called Veterans Affairs the next day and asked them about regular citizens attending that ceremony.”

Mackey went to Normandy for about a week in June 2004.

“I interviewed as many ‘Jakes’ as I could find, and, basically, I just went up to guys and thanked them for their service and asked them what it was like to be back, and I very much watched a lot of their interactions with one another,” said Mackey. “I went to the graveyards and walked along the beach and just had this incredibly moving experience. It was that workshop and this trip to Normandy that instigated the whole play.”

Once she returned from Normandy, Mackey says Karen Jeffery at the Sunset Theatre who gave her a deadline for the summer of 2006 to be part of her very first Exploration Series.

“When I got back from Normandy in 2004, I did a bit of work that fall on kind of trying to piece together what this play was going to become, but I just got stuck, and then the following year, I got really busy and we were working in Barkerville,” Mackey recalls. “Karen actually had seen a production that Dirk and I and all the other interpreters had put together of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it was after that performance that Karen approached me.”

Jeffery asked Mackey if she was working on anything she wanted to flesh out because she was starting up her Exploration Series, which supports the creation and development of new plays. Mackey said she did have this idea brewing after her trip to Normandy, and in January 2006, Jeffery told her she was on the poster so she couldn’t back out. Mackey ended up spending six weeks working on the play at the Sunset Theatre in the summer of 2006. Mackey worked on the play a bit more that fall and finished the current draft in December 2006.

“I had a reading in Chemainus when I was doing a play there with all of the cast members I was working with, as well as WWII veteran, Antony Holland — he was a very dear friend of ours, also an actor, but a WWII vet — and he was the very first veteran to hear the play,” recalls Mackey. “He immediately invited us to come to his theatre on Gabriola Island in January of 2007, and that was our very first performance after the workshop in Wells. Our touring really took off in 2009, and I can’t believe we’re now in our 13th year of touring it.”

This June, Mackey and van Stralen brought Jake’s Gift to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. While there, they delivered cards made by students from École Red Bluff Lhtako Elementary and Wells-Barkerville School for Canadian soldiers’ graves in France.

“It was so amazing,” said Mackey. “It was incredible, and all of those cards that we got to bring over that the students from Red Bluff and Wells-Barkerville School had made, that was such an incredible day, to get to give the cards to students [in France]. The mayor sent me photographs of all the students placing those cards on the graves, which was incredible.”

READ MORE: Wells-Barkerville and Quesnel students create thank you cards for Canadian WWII soldiers

They did six performances in Normandy — four in French and two in English.

“It was just such a moving experience to get to do the show in the exact location that we talk about in the play,” said Mackey. “It was amazing. There’s a scene where Jake says to Isabelle ‘don’t you think you should be getting home soon? Won’t your grandmother be worried about you?’ and she says, ’No, no, I just live in that house right over there.’ And the house I’m referring to is a very specific house in Normandy called the Queen’s Own Rifles House, and it’s also known as Canada House. It’s right on the beach, and any time you see a picture of the Juno Beach landings, you see that house, so in the play, I make that Isabelle’s home. To be able to actually be at a venue where I could actually see the house from the stage was just incredible, and so we changed the blocking for that scene — normally, I point to my right, but the house was right in front of me, so I just pointed. When Jake says ‘I remember that house, Queen’s Own Rifles, first boys to hit this part of the beach,’ I was looking exactly where that happened, so it was a very, very moving experience, very emotional.”

Mackey will perform Jake’s Gift Saturday, Nov. 23 at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 94 at 262 Kinchant St.

This is a dinner theatre performance, and tickets are $35, which includes dinner and the show. The Hensen Moore Jazz Duo will perform during dinner.

Doors open at 6 p.m., dinner is at 6:30 p.m., and the show is at 8 p.m.

Tickets are available at Bo-Peep, Circle “S” Western Wear, the Quesnel Visitor Centre, the Quesnel and District Arts and Recreation Centre, and the Legion.

At each show, Mackey and Van Stralen raise money for local Legions by selling Jake’s Gift buttons, which Van Stralen created in the summer of 2010. Since 2010, they have raised more than 5$50,000 for Poppy Trust Funds and Legions across Canada. They will be selling the three-button packages after this performance, and all the profits will go to Royal Canadian Legion Branch 94.

For more information about Jake’s Gift, visit jakesgift.com.

READ MORE: Saturday performance of Jake’s Gift in Wells is a fundraiser for return to Normandy



editor@quesnelobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Julia Mackey as Jake in her play Jake’s Gift. Tim Matheson photo

Julia Mackey as Jake in her play Jake’s Gift. Tim Matheson photo

Just Posted

Quesnel Search and Rescue has found a missing snowmobiler on Yanks Peak, near Wells. They are being assisted by the Wells RCMP, Wells Snowmobile Club and Central Cariboo and Prince George search and rescue teams. (Quesnel Search and Rescue)
Search and rescue crews locate missing sledder near Wells

Mike Harbek spent the night on Yanks Peak and was located by helicopter Monday afternoon

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: snowmobiler rescued, 1 still missing near Wells

As Quesnel search and rescue teams investigate Yanks Peak, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Quesnel Search and Rescue are looking for a missing snowmobiler on Yanks Peak Monday, Nov. 23. They are being assisted by the Wells RCMP, Wells Snowmobile Club and neighbouring search and rescue teams. (Quesnel Search and Rescue)
Search underway for missing snowmobiler out of Wells, Yanks Peak area

Two riders went missing while sledding on Yanks Peak Nov. 22. One is still missing.

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)
Ranch Musings: Perennial cereals and their potential to heal

Columnist David Zirnhelt shares information about intermediate wheatgrass

Natasha Wasmuth receives her Paul Harris Fellowship Award from Rotary Club of Quesnel 2019-20 president Simon Turner Nov. 19, 2020. (Photo Submitted)
Rotary honours epilepsyQuesnel founder Natasha Wasmuth

The Rotary Club of Quesnel presented Wasmuth with a Paul Harris Fellowship Award

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. to test emergency alert system on cell phones, TVs, radios on Wednesday

The alert is part of a twice yearly test of the national Alert Ready system

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Phillip Tallio was just 17 when he was convicted of murder in 1983 (file photo)
Miscarriage of justice before B.C. teen’s 1983 guilty plea in girl’s murder: lawyer

Tallio was 17 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 22-month-old cousin

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest, B.C. premier tells Penticton girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

Most Read