This month, two tales of B.C.’s pioneering spirits headline together at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre. Running Oct. 12 through 21, West combines plays Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show, both written by UVic alum Danette Boucher, and performed by Boucher and James Douglas. Produced by Histrionics Theatre Co., West is a double-bill including two of B.C.’s major gold rushes, two monumental points in history and, above all else, two Canadians finding home in the west.
Lady Overlander follows the story of Catherine O’Hare Schubert, who trekked from Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) to Kamloops in 1862 alongside her husband, two young children and baby, while pregnant. Enticed by the Cariboo goldfields, Schubert and her family encountered many obstacles during their journey as overlanders, including the perilous conditions of the Rocky Mountains and Schubert’s giving birth along the Thompson River. The first-person play follows Schubert through her journey to B.C., which was, at the time of the first gold rush, a hub of the modern world and opportunity for a fresh start.
The Fred Wells Show follows a similar path forged over a half century later. Just before the Great Depression hit North America, Fred Wells headed to the Cariboo Mountains on a hunch that gold still remained decades after the first gold rush. Wells was right and, as the saying goes, struck gold. While the rest of the world plummeted into the “dirty ’30s,” struggling to survive by any means possible, the second gold rush boomed, a beacon of prosperity in B.C. Today, the town of Wells, B.C. exists in his name.
Performing at The Phoenix is a coming home for Boucher and Douglas too, both of whom studied and performed in the building during their respective programs. While Douglas takes the stage with few nerves, Boucher feels particularly nervous about returning to her acting roots.
“I’m 51 years old and I’m going to feel like I’m 19 again, doing my first ever main stage production at the Phoenix,” she said, with a laugh. “The stakes felt really high.”
Boucher, today an artistic director, playwright and performer, studied museum theatre during her time at the university, but it wasn’t until she auditioned for a role as Emily Carr after graduation that she found her true passion. Almost 30 years later, she continues to work in heritage theatre.
A general manager, director and performer, Douglas attended UVic for several years between 1992 and 1994 before studying at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He became interested in heritage theatre while fulfilling a summer acting contract in the old mining town of Barkerville, B.C., where he immediately began to shift focus from classical and musical theatre to museum performance.
“When I started working in heritage, I found that what I was most connected with was this idea of people: how they move through the world,” said Boucher. “Right at the time Lady Overlander happened, 1862 … word really got out all over the world about the gold rush in British Columbia. People all over the world started trying to get here, but the idea of world travel was so new that it was really hard to get wherever you were going.”
Lady Overlander has shown in Barkerville and Vernon, among other B.C. locations. The Fred Wells Show began as a site-specific play, featuring at the Sunset Theatre in Wells, which Wells himself was involved in building as the town was constructed. Since then, the play has gone on to show as far away as New Mexico, proving its appeal to all audiences.
“That’s the thing about heritage theatre, too. You’re always trying to find the universal in the specific,” said Boucher. “As James and I always say, every small story is part of a bigger story is part of a bigger story.”
West at the Phoenix Theatre embodies two epic quests for home, and two vital points in history where the gaze of the world shifted to British Columbia.
Ticket information is available at finearts.uvic.ca/theatre/phoenix.