D’Arcy Island being used as a place to isolate people with leprosy, the tale of Cougar Annie who carved five-acres of gardens north of Hot Spring Cove, and Vancouver Island’s own ghost town are a few topics at the centre of a musical performance in Victoria beginning this week.
Presented by the Other Guys theatre company, Flotsam & Jetsam: Life on the West Coast is a multi-media performance featuring original folk music based on historical events and people, against a backdrop of archival and contemporary videos and photography of life in B.C.’s coastal communities.
Creators Tobin Stokes and Ross Desprez, who both grew up on the West Coast, were looking for new ways to shine a spotlight on the stories of people and places, locally.
“We’re always looking for ways to engage our audience. A modern audience is used to a lot of imagery and we’re trying to find new ways to keep people entertained,” said Desprez, a former Fairfield resident. “I’m always looking for ways to entertain people and at the same time teach them something. Each song is a story, so it’s more episodic.”
During the duo’s last show, Good Timber — Songs and Stories of the Western Logger, they incorporated similar multi-media elements and some audience members were able to point out family members in the old time logging photos.
After the success of the Good Timber show, Stokes and Desprez decided to carry on the multi-media theme into their next show, but this time highlight the area they grew up in.
“Living on the West Coast, you hear about things now and then, old timers say stuff or you hear about the original use of certain islands. We started to do our research online and in libraries, trying to piece together an entertaining show that would showcase the history of some of the more unusual things,” said James Bay resident Tobin Stokes, adding the songs are not only about historical events, but life on the West Coast as well.
One song focuses on the Komagata Maru incident during which a Japanese steamship carrying 376 passengers from India docked in Vancouver in 1914. Only 24 passengers were admitted to Canada, while the other 352 passengers were forced to return to India. Other songs are about riding the B.C. Ferries, when environmentalists clashed with loggers at Clayoquot Sound in the 1990s, and a community called Swanson Bay, a former pulp mill-turned Vancouver Island ghost town that has been taken over by the forest.
For Desprez, the performance is about bringing the stories of the past into the present.
“In the tradition of folk music, I hope they (audiences) go away humming some songs and maybe they’ll remember a few of the choruses and they’ll pass it to other people and that way the music and stories get passed along,” Desprez said. “I hope they’ll learn some things about the coast and some of the people along here who were interesting that they didn’t know about.”
The original folk music will be performed by Rachel Capon, Colleen Eccleston, Kelt Eccleston and Mark Hellman.
Flotsam & Jetsam: Life on the West Coast runs until May 29 at 7:30 p.m., with matinees on May 21, 22, 28 and 29 at 2 p.m at the Vic Theatre (808 Douglas St.) Tickets can be purchased online at tix.thevic.ca, by phone at 250-389-0444 or at the box office at 1215 Blanshard St.