Iconic Canadian play tours New Brunswick
Billy Bishop Goes to War staged by Sackville’s Live Bait Theatre
Local residents were recently treated to a production of the iconic Canadian play, Billy Bishop Goes to War, staged by Sackville’s Live Bait Theatre in collaboration with the Saint John Theatre Company.
The musical was written in 1978 by Mount Allison graduate John Maclachlan Gray, with Canadian actor, Eric Peterson. It tells the story of Canadian First World War fighter pilot Billy Bishop, and is one of the most widely produced plays in Canadian theatre.
Live Bait, celebrating its 30th anniversary, decided to stage the play this year at the Royal Canadian Legion, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
This marked the second time Charlie Rhindress has directed Billy Bishop Goes to War, working with Ron Kelly Spurles who has the title role.
“It was fun to revisit a show Ron and I had worked on more than 10 years ago,” he says. “In this production, Billy is a man in his fifties looking back on his youth which adds a bittersweet tone to the show that I don’t think we captured the first time.”
Although the story includes 18 characters, there are only two cast members onstage. Ron, artistic director of Live Bait, portrays Billy Bishop in the production and has the challenge of playing the remaining 17 characters in the story, while providing sound effects of the airplanes.
Ron is definitely up for the challenge, having been involved in the world of theatre since before junior high school. He has a wealth of experience in directing, acting and playwriting.
This is the third time Ron has starred in the Billy Bishop play. He’s particularly enjoying the “invigorating challenge” of so many lines and songs to learn.
In addition, he says, it’s been “a nice team to work with.”
The collaboration with the Saint John Theatre Company has worked out well. Ron enjoys working with Karen Kay, who costars in the production, as well as with Charlie. And his sister, Cynthia Spurles, president of Live Bait Theatre’s board of directors, “has done a great job with all the costumes.”
Karen, who plays piano and sings with Ron in the production, has a degree in music from Kingswood University. Since graduating, her work has involved teaching music, coaching vocals and directing musicals, as well as performing in productions where she both sings and plays. She is currently working on her own musical production, which she hopes will be performed next year.
The Billy Bishop production is Karen’s first major performance since suffering a serious wrist injury two years ago.
Charlie, the play’s director, has been working in the arts in Atlantic Canada for more than 30 years, having acted in or directed more than 80 productions. He’s appeared in movies and television shows and written 18 plays and more than 30 dinner theatres, as well as the best-selling Rita Macneil biography, I’m Not What I Seem. His next biography, Tom Connors, the Man and the Myths, is to be released in the spring.
To date, the play has been staged in Sackville, Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, including two school performances. Tickets are available for the Nov. 14 production in Saint Andrews or one in Sussex on Nov. 16.
Karen and Charlie are both involved in Live Bait’s next event, a Christmas dinner theatre, No Room at the Inn, written and directed by Charlie and featuring Karen as one of the performers.
For information on where to buy tickets for the remaining performances of Billy Bishop Goes to War and for details on upcoming Live Bait events, including Ron’s play on local skating hero Chester Cole, visit www.livebaittheatre.com.
Ron Kelly Spurles and Karen Kay perform a scene in ‘Billy Bishop Goes to War’ at the Royal Canadian Legion in Sackville.