Presented by the Lacombe Legion, a performance of the highly-acclaimed play Jake’s Gift runs June 6.
Written and performed by Julia Mackey and directed by Dirk Van Stralen, the production poignantly follows a Second World War veteran’s reluctant return to Juno Beach.
Curtain is at 7 p.m. at the Legion (5138 – 49 St). Doors open at 6 p.m.
Tickets are available at the Legion Lounge from Tuesday to Saturday beginning at 3 p.m. or by calling Arnie MacAskill at 403-782-7183.
“All of the people we have met over the years – we have made a promise that we would continue to tell their story and share this story with younger generations for as long as we could,” explained Mackey.
The origins of the play stretch back to 2004 when Mackey traveled to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
While there, she interviewed dozens of Canadian, British, and American WW2 veterans who had returned for the ceremonies.
The stories they shared with Mackey and her own life-long interest in Remembrance Day sparked the development of Jake’s Gift, which is described as a surprisingly funny multi-award-winning drama that tells the story of a Canadian World War II veteran’s return to Normandy to find the grave of the brother.
While revisiting Juno Beach, Jake encounters Isabelle, a precocious youngster from the local village.
“Her inquisitive nature and charm challenge the old soldier to confront some long-ignored ghosts – most notably, the war-time death of his eldest brother, Chester, a once-promising young musician.”
Meanwhile, the joys of staging the play over the years haven’t diminished one bit.
“It’s really about how much we care about the story, and about honouring the memory of those people and all of the ‘Jakes’ out there,” explained Mackey.
“Part of it, too, is that these characters in the story have really become friends to me – I love ‘hanging out’ with them. So in telling the story, it’s about also engaging with those characters,” she explained. “This story is also for all veterans – it doesn’t matter what generation they are from.”
Since early 2007, Juno Productions has toured Jake’s Gift to theatres, festivals, community halls, schools, and Legions in more than 250 communities across Canada.
Internationally, they’ve taken the show to Washington, Tiverton, and Birmingham, England, and to Normandy for the 70th, 73rd, and 75th anniversaries of D-Day.
For Mackey, it’s just so fulfilling to see the play’s impact.
She recalls a performance in Rosebud last year for several young students. “It was amazing to talk to them about a time in history that is so far removed from them now,” she explained.
“But those connections and those family ties are still very strong, and I think for us, it’s exciting to help a younger generation learn about that period of time. Theatre is such an interesting way to connect to history.”
Mackey has even performed Jake’s Gift in French and English in venues right on Juno Beach.
“I think what we’ve learned over the years about why people connect to the story is because there are so many universal themes in it – loss, forgiveness – I think those themes resonate with people.
‘My first wish also is I hope people walk out of the theatre thinking, who is their ‘Jake’. And how does it connect to their own family history and their own legacy?
“We also hope they just enjoy a story that connects us all on a deeper level because of those universal themes, and that it helps them think about how they can honour people in their own families or communities that have made those sacrifices over the course of history.”