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LEGENDS with the Vancouver Island Symphony - A Review

Making History Real

A Review by Rosemary Phillips, November 2008

Jason Nett, composer

Jason Nett, composer

That’s certainly a slice of Nanaimo’s history – better still, it could be said this is history in the making – two years of making and involving Nanaimoites past, present and future.

On November 3, 2008, Vancouver Island LEGENDS, a history of Nanaimo, was premiered to audiences at The Port Theatre with two performances for students in the morning and a presentation to the general public in the afternoon. Commissioned by the Vancouver Island Symphony for their education programs, LEGENDS presents Nanaimo’s history through theatre, from the original script by Vancouver Island University’s Eliza Gardiner, playwright and director, and original music composed by Nanaimo native Jason Nett, directed Gerald Van Wyck. For added drama, historical photos are projected onto the huge screen at the back of the stage.

From the opening music that spanned generations in its motifs, melody, and rhythm, the audience was drawn in to watch two students sitting behind their desks, bored, waiting for something to happen. And it did.

Gerald Van Wyck, conductor

Gerald Van Wyck, conductor

Conductor Gerald Van Wyck turned to take on his second role as school principal to make “announcements” over the PA system, cancelling the school dance, offering garbage detail for those who have overdue library books, and inviting students to participate in a national competition to make a video about the history of their community, a contest that offers a thousand-dollar prize – “but the deadline is tomorrow morning!”

And so begins the journey for Grade 8 student Sarah (played expertly by actor-singer Janel Snider) who envisions a season’s pass at Mount Washington and new snowboard gear. Her fellow student (portrayed by actor Drew Staniland whose various characters and their accents are brilliant) is not so enthusiastic but does reveal his own family history, about his great grandfather coming from Scotland to work in the mines, then launches into a jovial song “Three Hundred Feet Below.”

Eliza Gardiner, director/playwright

Eliza Gardiner, director/playwright

A kid, hanging out on the street with his IPod and earphones reluctantly begins his story about his grandfather from the reserve at Alert Bay who got TB and ended up in the Indian Hospital in Nanaimo. Here the music, so very reflective of the rhythm of West Coast First Nations, along with the drama of the characters in the vignette, touched the heart and drew us in to feel the pain and human tragedy. It was full of emotion. Said Nett briefly, after the performance; “The music for this section hits me. During rehearsal I had to sit at the back of the theatre because I got weepy.”

“We have to move forward through our past,” says Sarah as she begins the upbeat song titled “I Will Be Fine.” Sarah then meets up with a skateboarder whose great grandparents ran a shop in what is now the Old Quarter, saving to pay for the passage for family and the $50 head tax.

With comedic sketches and expressive and sensitive music that complements the action, we are introduced to the Nanaimo Concert Band, lacrosse, and Joyce Hardcastle’s winning of the Ultimate Nanaimo Bar Recipe contest. The journey then ends back in the classroom and LEGENDS closes with “announcements” restoring the dance and cancelling garbage detail. It was literally over far too soon.

Said Nett; “I am numb. There has been so much preparation and for the last three months this project has consumed me. It’s been a lonesome journey and now I am overwhelmed to hear it all come together. I couldn’t be happier.”

Said director/playwright Gardiner; “I had a great time. The actors really enjoyed themselves. Everyone shared their talent and professionalism.”

And to conclude, said Van Wyck; “It was more than I dreamed it would be. It has now taken on a life of its own. Both the musicians and the audience have just loved it.”

LEGENDS is not only a slice of Nanaimo history it is great entertainment in a highly professional production that every Nanaimo resident of every age should experience. While each can stand on their own, the theatre and the music combined bring a complete experience. LEGENDS reaches into life as it is today using knowledge and experience of what has been. What is more important is that it is reaching into our future with every student who witnesses it. What LEGENDS tells us is that history is within each person living in the community; it is a part of who we are.

These three performances were just the beginning. LEGENDS will be presented by the VI Symphony to students in the area for years to come, and rightly so. What a great way to learn history! And yet, there is so much yet to be explored. LEGENDS has left me wanting to find out more. It has given me just a bite of a slice of Nanaimo’s history, a delicious one at that. So I ask; “When do we get Slice 2?”

For more information about Outreach and Education programs visit the Vancouver Island Symphony's web site.

NOTE: There are many more articles on this site about great musicians and artists - see Index of Articles.

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