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.

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