Lords of Sceptre will bring small town memories to life
The creative writing mind who developed the immensely popular Diamond Girls is unveiling a new one-act play which highlights the baseball achievements of the Sceptre baseball team during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Maureen Ulrich will be touring the play Lords of Sceptre to 10 locations this month, including Southwest stops in Swift Current on November 13 and Sceptre on November 15.
Ulrich wrote the play to tell the surprising story of the high quality of baseball played in the small community of Sceptre during the heyday of barnstorming. Prairie baseball was highly competitive in the late 40s, with pro hockey players and recruits from the Negro Baseball League joining local players during hectic summer seasons of baseball.
“It was just a really unique time in baseball, with NHL players and Negro Major League players rubbing shoulders with farm boys,” Ulrich explained about the play.
“What else was there to do in a small town but play ball. They played it at recess. That’s what they aspired to do, to play with the senior team when they were 16 or 17 years old.”
Sceptre was her dad’s hometown, and while her father never spoke much about playing baseball before he passed away last May, Ulrich has gone on to research the rich history of Saskatchewan baseball and the rise of Sceptre into one of the top teams in the province.
The play is presented through the point of view narration of George Mahaffy, her father’s cousin, who began playing with the men’s team at the age of 17, playing first base and pitching during exhibition games.
“He just kind of got swept along on this mighty wave where they played 120 games a summer, and never stayed home. He talks about one June where he was on the road and slept in his own bed two nights out of the whole month.”
“To me it’s just fascinating, and it’s poignant, and it’s about a period,” she said. “It’s not just about the team, it’s also about the town.”
“And it’s also about a way of life that I don’t know that really exists anymore. You know of small towns that are dying, and no grain elevator, and no economy. It’s quite wistful.”
Ulrich notes he had a series of visits with George Mahaffy to gather as much information about the team and their exploits.
“I prompted George to tell me some stories, and then I realized there is actually a good story here about a little team that completed on a big stage.”
The production stars Mikael Steponchev and Tyler Toppings, and audience members will literally be in the middle of the action.
“What they’re going to see is two guys playing ball, storytelling, switching characters, doing kind of a series of dialogues, monologues. The play is being done inside of an imaginary ball diamond.”
She notes that Director Mark Claxton came up with an idea of how to make the audience feel they are part of the action.
“He said wouldn’t it be cool to make the audience feel like they’re actually at a game, and to have the actors sometimes running out beyond them to catch a foul ball, or sliding into second right in front of them, or actually drawing audience members into the play to be characters. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Very interactive.”
She stresses that Lords of Sceptre is more than just a local interest play.
“If you’re a fan of theatre, it’s great. If you’re a fan of baseball, it’s great. If you’re a fan of history, it’s great. And if you’re a fan of none of those things, I think even so you still get caught up in it.
“It’s always my hope that I impact the audience in multiple ways. Emotionally, I make them laugh, I make them cry. And I also hope that I make them hungry for more information.”
“This isn’t just for people who lived at that time. This is for eight-year-old boys or girls who love ball, and for them to know about the roots of baseball in their community.”
Lords of Sceptre will also feature a question and answer session at the end of the show, similar to what occurs following Diamond Girls.
“Its great to have people ask questions. But what is even more interesting is the stories that they tell us,” Ulrich said.