The development of B.C.'s towns and cities has been closely tied to the logging industry over the last 100 years. Loggers would leave their families for weeks, months or even years to go deep into the woods and cut down trees that looked more like sky scrapers. These people, mostly men, were brave souls as their tasks were extremely dangerous and casualties were just another part of the job. Many of these men's stories were never told, even to their families, and were lost to pages in the B.C. Archives —until now.
The Other Guys Theatre Company is presenting Good Timber, Songs & Stories of the Western Logger at the Royal B.C. Museum, August 8-27.
Based on the poetry of Robert E. Swanson (1905-1944), the Bard of the Woods, Good Timber takes a modern look at the people and the industry that helped build our province.
“Ross invented a new genre with this one,” says John Carswell, visual designer on the production. “It's a live historical multi-media musical revue.”
Director Ross Desprez idea was to take Swanson's words and turn them into a soundtrack for the 90 minute play. There's no spoken dialogue in the play aside from Swanson's poetry.
“My wife introduced me to the poems of Robert Swanson,” says Desprez. “Her family members were all loggers and she kept telling me to do something with the poems. I thought this would be a good fit.”
Some poems are sung, acted out or even spoken to the music. Some are dramatized through the huge video screen that makes up the backdrop of the set. “We came up with the idea to use video for this show because it's so rich in history,” says Desprez. “When we got John on board and started talking about using video, we decided the museum archives would be the place to go.”
Carswell spent months digging through the print and video archives to put together the amazing historic images that set the mood for the whole production.
“It's kind of like watching a 3D movie, with the actors walking right out of the imagery,” says Carswell. The 16 foot screen is as wide as the stage.
The cast of six; Ross Desprez, Sarah Donald, Colleen Eccleston, Kelt Eccleston, John Gogo and Mark Hellman, not only act out the stories of the Western Logger, but they play the music too. They switch between guitar, mandolin, squeeze box, and even logging tools like 6-foot cross-cut saws, axes and files.
“Musical Director Tobin Stokes' main studies were in percussion,” says Desprez. “He encouraged us to bring in some logging tools. We started messing around with them and discovered that it added a really neat element to the show.”
The music offers a distinct West Coast sound with folk, country, jazz and celtic tunes Desprez describes as “East meets West with a twist,” and touch on every aspect of the industry from the woods to the mills to loading the massive logs onto ships for transport.
Between the music, the poems the photos and video, Good Timber is looking to not only inform British Columbians about an industry that helped shape the province they call home, but to dispel any myths about an industry who's corporate past has helped demonize a noble profession.
“We want to give the loggers some credibility for the hard work they did and show the human side of the industry,” Carswell says. “I've lived nearly 40 years on the Island and I had no idea what was happening out there in the woods like most people.” M
Good Timber Songs and Stories of the Western Logger is playing at the Royal B.C. Museum Monday through Saturday at 8pm, Aug. 8 to 27
Tickets are $17 - $22 at the museum box office or by phone