In Pictures: Welcome Home? was inspired and inspiring

By David F. Rooney

The mostly young actors and actresses of Welcome Home? — Flying Arrow Productions’ Canada 150 Community Theatre Project — put on one heck of a performance at the Railway Museum on Saturday, February 11.

The phrase “community theatre project”  left me wondering what to expect. Would the play be charmingly inept and amateurish? Would the dialogue be painful? How would it tell real stories? Would it be funny or tragic? I was swiftly disabused of my quiet misapprehensions.

The play actually begins in the waiting room of the Railway Museum when Carolyn Johnston introduces herself as Minnie the Tour Guide and then takes the audience, which was limited to about 40 people because of the nature of the venue,  on the beginning of a tour of the exhibits. It gets interesting after a few minutes when, if you suspend your disbelief in time travel, two young girls manage to jump back in time and meet arch-capitalist and CPR Chairman Donald Smith, cunningly played by Andy Parkin.

The use of the Railway Museum, its exhibits and the CPR’s well-known history as the agency by which hundreds  of thousands of immigrants came to Canada was an inspired move as it allows the men, women, boys and girls of the cast to tell their sometimes dark but ultimately hopeful stories. There are also light moments and some truly local takes on immigration.

A Director’s Note from Anita Hallewas that was published in the program describes the play’s genesis:

Welome Home? began as a spark after reading a survey in the Revelstoke Review that stated 51% of locals did not want  a newly sponsored Syrian family to come to Revelstoke. As a new immigrant to Canada (and the child of a refugee) who was welcomed so warmly just nine years ago, this didn’t seem like the expected response from that same town. But the conversation had been started and it seemed like a great opportunity to explore, through theatre, how and why Revelstoke was welcoming towards newcomers both in the past and the present.”

Flying Arrow Productions explored these themes through a series of workshops last autumn.

“Each conversation, discussion, concern or opinion triggered the next workshop until we had collected enough information to devise a play… and by the time we held auditions we had attracted a team of 22 performers who were eager… to perform the play, Welcome Home?.

“The piece is still ‘a work in progress’ and we hope for more feedback and discussion to add more voices nd opinions to make this play a truly Revelstoke product…”

Although only two performances were scheduled — both on Saturday — Anita said afterwards that more performances will be scheduled this spring and summer.

I thought Welcome Home? was an inspired performance and speaks to the heart, particularly young hearts, in language that is clear and direct. I hope everyone in Revelstoke will get to see it.

In the meantime here are some photos that I hope will inspire you to share — or even just think about — your own immigrant’s tale:

Andy Parkin plays CPR Chairman Donald Smith (among other roles) at the beginning of Welcome Home, Flying Arrow Production’s ambitious and successful community theatre ptroject, which discusses Canada’s experience with immigration. Arwynne Russell and Ava Keerak play two young time travellers whose journey introduces then to immgrants at different points in time. The Railway Museum was an ideal location for this Canada 150 project given that the CPR brought tens of thousands of immigrants to Canada and acted in many ways as an instrument that helped create Canadian national identity even as it exploited immigrants’ racial, cultural and religious differences. David F. Rooney photo
Jazen Corton poignantly portrays a Chinese railway worker, one of thousands who were imported under heavy restrictions to work in Canada. David F. Rooney photo
Donald Smith boasts of the immense profits realized by the CPR’s monopoly and its racist exploitation of visible minorities. David F. Rooney photo
Briana Sadler and Ivo Keerak play a Syrian mother and child wondering at the new land they have come to. David F. Rooney photo
Gil MacLachlan vents her frustration as a senior immigrant. David F. Rooney photo
This seemingly friendly and cozy scene has a very disturbing subtext. Jade Davies (left) pours tea for Logan Ancell who plays a Japanese boy in a Second World War internment camp. What makes this scene disturbing is the two levels of conversation between the the girl, the only child of a white farmer who exploits the free labour provided by internment camp prisoners, and the boy who seeks to deflect her pointed and uncomfortable questions and comments. David F. Rooney photo
Conductor Kelly Zurba examines passengers’ eye colour before permitting them on the train. If you had blue eyes, like the woman in red, you were automatically ushered aboard. If you had brown eyes and/or epicanthic eyelids you were not allowed on the train but were told to hurry to the next station to catch another train. David F. Rooney photo
Andy Parkin portrays an angry farmer on his way to Vancouver after accepting the government’s compensation for BC Hydro’s plan to drown his farm along the Columbia River during the 1960s as part of the Columbia River Treaty. Thousands of farms and even whole villages were drowned, actions which have left a legacy of bitterness and poverty in our region as people who came here as hopeful immigrants were forced from their lands. David F. Rooney photo
In a very Revelstoke joke, a cabal of sneaky and secretive local cafe owners attempt to dissuade 10 Italian barristas from coming to town. David F. Rooney photo
Here’s the second post on the Poke List. David F. Rooney photo
And the third post. David F. Rooney photo
The sinister and secretive local cafe owners meet to discuss ways to keep out the Italian competition. David F. Rooney photo
And in a grand finale, the cast sings Welcome Home, an original song written by Dave Dobbyn. Please click on the image to see a larger version of it. David F. Rooney photo