Remembrance in spotlight
By Darren Lum
Published July 11, 2017
Later this month, the Highlands Summer Festival is bringing an award-winning show that has wowed audiences and critics alike.
Jake’s Gift is about a Second World War veteran who returns to Normandy, France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day to find his brother’s grave. While there, he is befriended by Isabelle, a young French girl who lives in a town that he helped to liberate. She helps him deal with the loss of his brother and encourages him to deal with “unresolved ghosts.”
The 65-minute one-woman show was conceived, written and performed by Julia Mackey, born in Britain and raised in Montreal.
The themes presented by the play are universal, she said.
“It’s about loss. It’s about remembrance,” she said.
With many veterans dying, she believes it is her job to use this play to tell this story to recognize the efforts and sacrifices of the men and women who have served while they are alive and long after they have gone.
This show came from a trip by Mackey, who visited Normandy, France for the 60th anniversary of D Day. She visited various locations such as the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery where thousands of grave markers stand for the Canadians who died. Some barely 21. She has met dozens of British, Canadian and American veterans and said Jake is the amalgamation of several veterans she met on the trip.
This play is for all of them.
“Either in conversations I had with them or conversations I overheard, it was a real concern for them and a desire for the youth of Canada and of France to understand the sacrifices that have been made,” she said.
The impetus to go overseas is rooted in her interest in Remembrance Day, which started as a child in Montreal while attending all-day school events spent in the gymnasium dedicated to honouring men and women who have served for their country.
When she was in Grade 7, she and her father watched a documentary on the Second World War, which focused on D-Day and the holocaust. It deeply affected her.
She said it started her lifelong passion on remembrance. It made her truly realize what Remembrance Day and the horror of war is about. It also made her appreciate the sacrifice of war. It stayed with her, inspiring her to write a poem about war and then led to this play to act as a “thank you to veterans and to soldiers that never came home.”
She is proud about being able to follow through with this desire even if it took her 25 years to do it.
After a 10-year run for Jake’s Gift, Mackey has grown as an artist and a person from her own life and from interactions with veterans, which has enriched her story-telling and brought greater understanding for her characters. She believes her four characters, as strange as it sounds, she said, have developed and learned to listen better. Also, a few scenes have expanded.
Although the July 25 show is sold out, there are still tickets for the July 23 and 24 shows. See the website www.highlandssummerfestival.on.ca for more information about the play and for tickets, or call 1-855-457-9933.
Mackey said the audience often has a wide range of ages represented and recommends this play is suitable for people from 10 and up. Many of them are related to veterans.
“A lot of the people that come to the show are the children and the grandchildren of veterans and so the legacy of that is very strong. I think their commitment to hold up the legacy of their particular family member’s story is strong,” she said.
The greatest satisfaction she and partner Dirk Van Stralen, who is also the director, receive while doing the show is hearing about the reactions from the audience, who are taken on an “emotional roller-coaster,” she said.
“The greatest compliment we ever got: people tell us that they feel like they were there on Juno Beach. They feel like they were there with us in France [in Bény-sur-Mer for the 60th],” she said.
Note: Jake’s Gift will also be offering gift button packages for $5 each. Mackey said 100 per cent of profits will be donated to the Royal Canadian Legion in Haliburton. There has been more than $39,000 raised for Poppy Trust Funds and Legions across Canada. Following one of the shows, a Juno Productions print called Fallen Hero, as facilitated by non-profit Canadian Fallen Heroes Foundation will be donated. Mackey invites representatives of the Haliburton Legion and neighbouring Legions to come. She asks interested Legions to notify the festival box office.