A Wells local who first fell in love with theatre as a young student at Correlieu Secondary School has been named the new operator for Barkerville’s Theatre Royal.
Barkerville Historic Town and Park, which is the largest gold rush heritage attraction in western North America, announced Dec. 16 at its annual staff Christmas social that a new producer has been found for the Theatre Royal’s 2020 operating season.
Newman and Wright Theatre Company, the partnership of Amy Newman and Richard Wright, announced in early November that they were concluding their run as principal operators of the theatre after 16 years.
“Newman and Wright Theatre Company, who’ve successfully operated the Theatre Royal for the past 16 years, have made immense contributions to the history and development of Barkerville as a world-class tourism and entertainment destination,” Barkerville CEO Ed Coleman said in a press release. “We are committed to providing an equally high level of professional theatre presentation in Barkerville as we move forward. So, after a thorough internal selection process, we have invited long-time Barkerville contract manager Stewart Cawood to produce our Theatre Royal’s 2020 season.”
Cawood says he is very excited for his team to get this contract.
“In a way, it’s bittersweet too because I’ve known Amy and Richard for a long time, and the whole time I’ve worked in Barkerville, they’ve been there, so it’s sad to see them leave, but hopefully they have lots of fun things planned for the future for themselves, and I’m sure a lot of that will be connected to Barkerville,” he said in a phone interview less than 48 hours after the contract was announced. “But I’m very excited for me and my team to start working at the theatre.”
It’s still very early, and they are still working out the details of what the show may be, but Cawood says he thinks audiences, especially for people who have been to Barkerville many times, will be seeing something that is very familiar to what they would have expected before.
“Richard and Amy set a very high bar for quality, and we know that people are very entertained by musical variety shows, so we want to continue the legacy that has been established by the previous operators of the theatre, also the operators before Richard and Amy,” he said. “They’ve been putting on entertaining shows for decades in the theatre, so following a similar path, and of course, I’m sure we’ll be bringing some unique spin to it. All those details will develop as we move forward now.”
Cawood was born and raised in Quesnel, where his love of theatrical performance was fostered at Correlieu Secondary School.
Cawood went to Correlieu when it was a Grade 8-12 school, under Chuck Mobley. He went through the drama program there from Grade 8 on but says it was around Grade 10 when he really got a taste for the stage.
“I was cast in some plays, and at one point, playing the major-general in Pirates of Penzance in front of an audience, I just remember thinking to myself ‘this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever done, and this is all I want to do,’” he said. “That passion carried on, and I decided to take theatre as much as I possibly could, soaking up as much knowledge and experience as I could and working on every single project that would come up, whether it would be one of the small class plays or the full musical, helping out with sets and learning about lights and sound, or taking Chuck Mobley’s directing class and doing extracurricular theatre with other students.”
Cawood went on to earn multiple degrees in drama, history and education at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops while working during the summer for the Chinatown, Historic Street, and Colonial Justice interpretation programs in Barkerville.
As a professional actor, director and production manager, Cawood has also worked internationally on projects with the Saucy Fops, Project X, Reliquarium Productions, The Sunset Theatre, Histrionics Theatre Company, London UK Records and Barker Street Cinema.
“If it wasn’t for those days at Correlieu Secondary, I’m not sure what sort of course my life would have taken,” he said. “I’m very lucky, all the stuff I did in my post-secondary, I’ve found to be very beneficial here, and now I get to work with a team of creative people who I don’t think I would have been able to find anywhere else, and work doesn’t feel like work out here — not for me, at least.”
In 2013, Cawood assumed management of Barkerville’s Cameron and Ames Blacksmith Shop, and he was awarded a contract to oversee the park’s Historic Street interpretation program the following year.
He will continue managing both the Blacksmith and Historic Street programs while producing daily musical variety shows at the Theatre Royal in 2020, with help from a team of seasoned performers whose collective experience in Barkerville spans decades, according to the Barkerville press release.
Cawood started working in Barkerville in 2006, first working for the Chinatown interpretation program.
“I knew some people who worked here at the time and knew there was potentially an opening,” he said. “In the beginning, it was a thing of familiarity too, being from Quesnel, I’d pondered the idea of working in Barkerville for some time since being a high school kid at Correlieu. So when the opportunity came, I was excited and then very quickly found myself loving this place, Wells included, more than any place I’d been.
“There’s just something special about this place, particularly for those of us who are in the arts and in theatre. There’s so many talented people who come here; being able to work with these people and to learn from them, it just enhanced my experience so much.”
Cawood says they would do a lot of theatre outside of what they were doing in Barkerville, including participating in the Sunset Cabarets at the Sunset Theatre in Wells.
“As each year went on, I just kept finding reasons to keep coming back,” said Cawood.
Cawood worked for two years with the Chinatown program and then worked on the street under the previous contractor and then with the Colonial Justice contract for about three years. When he started working with the judges, he decided to live full-time in Wells.
“I couldn’t find another place I loved being in as much as Wells, so I decided to become a year-round resident,” he said. “That was eight years ago now, and I haven’t turned back.”
After working with the Justice program, Cawood got the Cameron and Ames Blacksmith Shop contract and then the street interpretation contract.
“As time has gone on, I felt the stories of the people who were here become more and more important to me, and so telling those stories and continuing to expand the voices in those stories — moving away also from white settler narrative and learning about the Indigenous people who lived here before all of this even started, of course, and delving more into women’s history and focusing less on the big figures, getting a broader sense of the stories of all the people who were here,” he said.
“We’ll never be able to encompass the whole thing, but we enjoy trying. It makes it exciting. We tell some of these stories so long, and then a new piece of information comes up, and it could seem to be a small, insignificant piece of information, but sometimes even those little bits you learn really fill in the gaps of who some of these people were and the lives that they led.”
For more information about Barkerville’s Theatre Royal and its 2020 season, visit barkerville.ca or phone James Douglas at 1-888-994-3332, ext. 41, or Ed Coleman at ext. 23.