It was a full house for Ponoka’s first viewing of the veterans inspired play Jake’s Gift, which was held at the Ponoka Royal Canadian Legion on Friday, April 17.
The heart wrenching play is about a veteran who goes back to Juno Beach for its 60th anniversary to visit his brother’s grave and there he befriends a young girl who lives in the area.
Written and acted solely by Julia Mackey, the Ponoka performance was the second show in a 10-show tour that is taking Mackey and director Dirk van Stralen around the province.
Mackey says whenever she has the chance to perform Jake’s Gift in a Legion building, it just creates that much more of an experience for herself and the audience because of the connection between the two.
“We had such a great time. The response in Ponoka was amazing,” said Mackey.
She added that the audience’s reaction to the play was quite emotional.
Following her show, Mackey likes to host a reception so she can interact with those who came to see the play. In the stories they share with her, Mackey feels most people who connect with the play do so because they have a ‘Jake’ in their lives or they have been to Normandy.
During the reception, Mackey was able to meet Ponoka Secondary Campus teacher and Broncs World Tour founder Ron Labrie. “It was amazing to hear his story,” Mackey said of her conversation with Labrie.
“We’re going to keep in touch,” she added.
In having so many people express their connection to the play, Mackey says it just goes to show how universal its themes are. “It’s just a good reminder to me on what a common story this is in Canada.
Now that she is also performing internationally, Mackey says people across the world are able to relate to Jake’s Gift.
Mackey has performed the play in the United States and England, as well as on Juno Beach during its 70th anniversary. “It was an amazing full circle experience,” she recalled.
Mackey first dreamed up Jake more than a decade ago during a workshop in Vancouver. Each participant was required to create a character and a story from a mask. “The mask I chose to work with looked like an old man,” she explained.
From the mask, Mackey created the lives of three brothers who lived on the Canadian prairies and enlisted with the Canadian Armed Forces.
“I really didn’t feel done with Jake’s story and I needed to flush it out,” said Mackey.
On the news, she heard about the upcoming 60th anniversary of Juno Beach and managed to get herself there. She interviewed as many veterans as she could and from their stories and her imagination, she created Jake’s Gift.
During each performance of the play, Jake’s Gift button packages are sold with the proceeds donated to the Royal Canadian Legion. The play was able to raise $125 for Ponoka’s Legion.
Also donated to the Legion was a Fallen Heroes print. The artwork comes from the Fallen Heroes Foundation, which raises money to create plaques for each of Canada’s fallen soldiers.
After the founder of Fallen Heroes saw Jake’s Gift, it has become practice to donate a print because of the similarities between the two works of art. Fallen Heroes depicts a veteran and a young girl standing side by side at a soldier’s grave. “The two things were completed separately of each other,” Mackey said.