Published on November 01, 2013
Julia Mackey appears as Jake in Jake’s Gift. The one-woman show is at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside on Nov. 7 at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the theatre box office and by calling 888-2500 or toll-free, 1-800-708-6505. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Published on November 01, 2013
Julia Mackey meets Canadian Second World War veteran, Arthur Heximer, during the 60th anniversary of D-Day at Juno Beach, Normandy, France. He’s one of the people she interviewed, while doing the research for her play, Jake’s Gift.
PHOTO SPECIAL TO THE GUARDIAN BY JUNE HEXIMER
Attending 60th anniversary of D-Day inspires Julia Mackey to write Jake's Gift, a play in Summerside, Nov. 7
When Julia Mackey travelled to Normandy, France, for the 60th anniversary of D-Day celebrations in 2004, she had no idea how it would impact her life.
“I had started to write this story about three brothers and I had the feeling that I could find the rest of the story in Normandy,” says the award-winning playwright, during a recent telephone interview.
But the experience of attending so many ceremonies and graveside memorials and meeting so many veterans and walking the beaches was overwhelming.
“I had planned to write a little bit every night. But that never happened because I was so emotionally exhausted at the end of each day, all I could do was have a glass of wine,” says Mackey.
When she got back home to Canada, her writing took a new direction.
Instead of a story about three brothers, she started penning a play about a lost generation.
“There’s something completely sobering about walking into a graveyard where over 2,000 Canadians were buried. I found it overwhelming, trying to envision what each of those boys would have become. It was that universal story that needed to be told,” says Mackey, author of Jake’s Gift, a play that will be performed at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside on Nov. 7 at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Described as a “moving and powerful tribute to veterans” the one act, one-woman play is about a Canadian Second World War veteran’s reluctant return to Juno Beach to find the grave of the brother who never came home.
“In the play, we made it specific, about one family. I chose the real grave of Chester Hebner from Grandview, Manitoba, who is buried in Normandy,” says the British Columbia playwright.
However, she created his brother, Jake, who made the trip to Normandy to seek closure for his family’s loss.
“In the play, I’ve made Chester into an up-and-coming musician. Then, when I met Chester’s only living sister, who is 91, she didn’t know anything about me making this play. She just knew that this gal had come across her brother’s grave and was inspired about it. So, when she started telling me about her brother, Chester, the musician I was amazed. What a coincidence.
“It’s one of the incredible things that came out of the journey of going there and then coming back and writing the play,” she says.
Since 2007, her work has captured the hearts of Canadians across the country. Anthony Holland of Gabriola Island, B.C. who has worked with her in the past, includes this about her show in promotional materials:
“I am a veteran of the Second World War, and this play and its performance made a greater impact on me than all the memorial services I have ever attended.”
The play has received several prizes, including the Betty Mitchell award for outstanding performance by an actress in drama, the Canadian Arts Presenting Association award for touring artist of the year and the British Columbia Touring Council for touring artist of the year.
What’s the reason for its popularity?
“There’s something about Jake that people connect to, whether it’s their father, uncle or grandfather,” says Mackey.
“It’s also about how you deal with the loss of someone that you really care about. (One of the characters) in the play helps Jake deal with the loss of his brother and brings him back to finding the joy in his life that he lost.”
Sally Cole is a features writer with The Guardian. She welcomes comments about her column as well as suggestions for future columns from readers. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 629-6000, ext. 6054.
At A Glance
Up close and personal
with Julia Mackey
- The artist was born into a theatre family in Birmingham, England, and moved to Canada when she was three years old.
- She grew up in Montreal and received an education degree from McGill University before heading out west to pursue acting and writing in 1993.
- In 1995, she started working with Victoria’s Theatre SKAM, and has since worked with many other theatre companies across Canada.
- Since early 2007, Mackey has toured Jake’s Gift to theatres and festivals across Canada.
- In 2009, her work in Jake’s Gift garnered her a nomination for outstanding performance by an actress in a lead role (small theatre category) at Vancouver’s Jessie Richardson theatre awards.
- When not touring, Mackey lives in Vancouver with her partner, Dirk Van Stralen, an award-winning cartoonist, illustrator, actor and the director of Jake’s Gift.