Eve of Confederation: dramatic new experience at UCV

MORRISBURG – Will the beautiful Elizabeth Robertson find love with the aristocratic Captain Johnson, or choose instead the poor Irish immigrant, Edward O’Brien?

Will her wealthy father and the ordinary people of Upper Canada, faced with the threat of Fenian Raids, and an aggressive American government, ultimately decide to embrace a radical new idea – Confederation?

For visitors to Upper Canada Village this summer, an exciting and unique experience awaits.

Eve of Confederation, an original and immersive theatre production, written specifically for the Village, is currently running every Saturday evening, throughout the summer. The actual buildings and streets of the Village provide the settings for this production, as a troupe of versatile and talented actors bring the turbulent world of 1866 to vibrant life.

“This is a play about choices,” said Mr. Elias Cook of Cook’s Tavern, welcoming the large audience gathered for the Saturday, July 8, production. “It’s a play about choosing your partners, and a play about choosing whether to create a nation. And all around us, we have the most incredible stage, as you enter into a living, breathing community of 1866.”

Eve of Confederation is an original script developed by Charles Roberston of Bottle Tree Productions out of Kingston. The author of a number of plays with historical themes, Robertson used diaries, pamphlets, pictures and newspapers of the day to create his characters and their story. He also directed the cast, rehearsing in the Village.

Robertson’s business partner in Bottle Tree Productions, Anne Marie Mortensen, was the designer for this unique show.

“Upper Canada Village wanted a play specific to the Village itself, and one that would encompass the feelings and events of the year 1866,” Mortensen explained. “The Village gave us full use of their costumes and resources, all of which create a very authentic and genuine experience for audiences as the story plays out.”

While the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Robertson, he a prosperous businessman, she a proper Victorian lady with ambitions to see her daughter “marry up”, are fictional, they are based on research into real people of the late 19th century.

“In creating this play, we could get a little ‘outside’ actual history,” Mortensen explained. “We wanted to create characters and a story that would be both engaging and appealing.”

The action flows from the small Anglican church to the lovely Robertson House, from a dance at the livery yard to confrontations at the sawmill. The audience is swept along.

Martin Forbert and Rachel Kelleher are the wealthy and socially ambitious Robertsons.

Michael Taggart and Emily Flake are the O’Briens, hard-working and honest, but poor. Their late father Paddy, was broken by his wife’s death, and “like a good Irishman, he took to drink,” Paddy’s son says sadly.

Captain Johnson (Erik Hutten), wealthy and cultured, is lately returned from the American Civil War, and is interested in business opportunities. He also seeks marriage into the “right” family.

Elizabeth Robertson (Sue Del-Mei) is a young woman, caught like Canada on the eve of great change. Will she follow convention or will she take a chance with her heart?

Toss a boisterous barmaid (Sydney Van Camp), two mischievous local boys (Adam Vivian and Aiden Coulter) and Julian Whittam and Tom Henbest as the musicians, into this strong cast, and it becomes very clear why the audience found itself eagerly caught up in the lives of the characters.

And throughout the entire play loomed the big, and controversial question of the day.

What choice for Canada’s future would people make, on this, the very Eve of Confederation?

“This production is family friendly, and accessible to all,” said Julian Whittam, programming and historical research at Upper Canada Village. “The story speaks to people, and we get great ad-libs and comments from the audience as they directly experience the events.”

The Village decided to stage Eve of Confederation for two reasons.

“This is Canada 150,” Whittam explained. “We felt the Village was perfectly placed to do something amazing and unusual to celebrate Canada’s Birthday. Secondly, the Village has always done a number of different events along with its regular programs. We had been wanting to experiment with a theatre production for a while, and this was a chance to use our site in a new and accessible way.”

Audience reactions and comments will help determine whether immersive theatre becomes a regular part of the Upper Canada Village experience. At this point, however, feed back is very positive, according to Whittam.

Step back into Canada’s past at the Village, and live again on the Eve of Confederation.