By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – One hundred years of Morinville history was brought to the stage of the community cultural centre Oct. 28 through a one-hour performance that combined song and dance with humourous and touching vignettes about life in Morinville from its first settlers to the present day. Streets and Sidewalks by Calgary playwright Jacqueline Russell was the culmination of the Friends of the Morinville Public Library’s wanting to be a part of the community’s centennial, and was made possible through a centennial grant. For the approximately 140 residents who came out to the performance, the finished product was worth the effort.
Russell visited Morinville in May and interviewed and recorded the stories and reminiscence of a number of current and past residents, data that was converted into a unique piece of theatre that garnered a standing ovation at its conclusion.
“I’m overwhelmed and thrilled,” said Lil Boddez after the conclusion of the performance. “I think it was absolutely fantastic.” Boddez was one of the residents interviewed prior to the writing of the play, and said she felt the play captured her reminiscences wonderfully. “She [Russell] did such a wonderful job because you know what you said, and you know how she interpreted it.”
Another Morinville resident whose story was used in the play is Simon Chevalier. Like Boddez, Chevalier feels the playwright and actors treated her story well. “They captured it very well,” Chevalier said. “[It was] very heart-warming. It captured all the stories we had. It captured it very well with feeling, too.”
Chevalier’s story was brought to life in a vignette called Insurance, a piece of theatre that allowed the playwright to tell her audience what things cost years ago, thanks to a ledger Mrs. Chevalier and her husband kept that itemized all of their purchases over a period of time. But the vignette told a deeper story, the tale of how the Chevaliers lost their business to fire after six years and how, faced with no relocation insurance, the community came together to assist them through their time of need. The scene closes with the actor playing Mr. Chevalier saying, “We didn’t have insurance; we had a community,” It was a line that struck a chord with the audience, drawing several comments of approval from the audience.
But the vignette was not only popular with the audience; it was also the playwright’s favourite.
“I wrote that scene with the idea of keeping track of your life through time and what is that one thing that really stays,” Russell said. “And for them it was their community – the fact that when they experienced hardship, it was their community that pulled them through.”
It is that sense of community, that sense of belonging to and being a part of, that was what Russell took away from Morinville in May and what she and her actors brought back to Morinville in October.
“I think in synthesizing all the stories I collected, what really struck me was how much pride there is in the town, and the fact that Morinville, despite the fact that it’s gone through so many changes as a community, still is a cohesive community that people still feel a part of,” Russell said, adding the sense of belonging is despite an influx of more members to the community and the many differences of lifestyle and careers. “It’s maintained its unity as a town.”
Russell credited her actors: Leda Davies, Joe Fowler, Heather Faulk, Jeremy Park and Alynn Trottier with not only bringing that story of cohesiveness to the stage but in helping to form it. “Because it was a new work, my actors were really wonderful about giving me a lot of good feedback as we worked through the material,” the playwright said. “It was helpful feedback for me as a writer, so we rewrote a lot of stuff through the rehearsal process and collaborated on a couple things.”
Although the majority of Morinville’s story was told through lines of dialogue or lyrics of a song, one of the closing scenes was told through dance movements – the entire cast moving through the scene as settlers, coming, rolling up their sleeves and working together to create a community that blossomed. The entire scene was set against a grainy video backdrop of travelling through the prairies. Without so much as a single word being spoken – that important seed that was planted by Jean Baptiste Morin and those who followed him was told in a meaningful and emotional way.
“I wanted to tell that story in a new way,” Russell said of the piece. “I didn’t want to do here we are on the prairie. It’s been done.”
But not all settlers to Morinville came before a highway ran through Main Street. Over the past 100 years many people have come to the community to call it home and participate in it, something that was a common thread through Russell’s play. One of those new settlers is Morinville Councillor Lisa Holmes who, along with the rest of council, supported the grant that made the play possible.
“It’s the amazing the history in this town, and celebrating it is really important,” Holmes said. “The year has been absolutely amazing for all the way that we [the community] have shown to bring out the spirit of Morinville, what we were and what we are going to be. This [play] was absolutely amazing. I learned a lot of things I did not know, and I hope more people will have the opportunity to see it, if they can, in the future.
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