‘A love letter of thanks to our veterans’

Jake’s Gift to bring story set on the beaches of Normandy to the Rawlinson stage

Julia Mackey, Jake’s Gift playwright and performer. Photo courtesy Tim Matheson.

A show that has been moving audiences across Canada and the US for the last 13 years is coming to Prince Albert just in time for Remembrance Day.

Jake’s Gift tells the story of a veteran who travels back to Normandy for the first time since the D-Day landings to find the grave of his eldest brother, who was killed during the Normandy campaign.

When Jake travels to Normandy, he meets a young French girl who helps him to deal with the loss of his older brother through having a graveside conversation with his deceased sibling.

“It’s really a story about friendship, forgiveness and how we help one another deal with loss,” said playwright and performer Julia Mackey.

“It really is about the legacy of remembrance, personalizing the story behind one soldier’s grave.”

Mackey was inspired to write the play after a trip to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, back in 2004. She travelled to Normandy for a week, interviewing as many veterans as she could find and introduce herself to. She travelled the countryside, walked the beaches and went to the cemetery.

“It was truly one of the most moving experiences of my life,” she said.

“I took that journey and put it into this play, which is really a love letter of thanks to our veterans.

 “People say it’s a very moving and emotional piece … but also, when you think it’s getting too much, it just turns the corner and you start laughing your head off. People are saying it’s really wonderful to have the kind of roller coaster of emotions.”

Mackey also said that no matter where the show has gone — to communities in Canada and the US, and even to the beaches of Normandy — the reaction has been the same.

“One of the most amazing things that we have experienced … through t13 years now with the play is the audience response,” she said.

“People love it and how much it reminds them of their own Jake in their own life. People seem to connect to Jake on a very personal level. So many people that come to our show … have a Jake in their life, whether they know (them) personally or know it as part of their own family history. One of the things I try and do with this show is connect people on a heartfelt personal level.”

Mackey says that connection helps people to think about the immense loss during the Second World War and the thousands of Canadians who never returned home.

“I think by trying to personalize it and make it about one particular person, it makes those other thousands of men feel more real and … we can connect to them on a more personal level.”

While the performance was written to honour veterans, for the past ten years, the cast and crew have also been trying to help veterans. After each how they sell a set of three Jake’s Gift buttons, each relating to a theme within the play. All profits from button package sales are donated back to the Legions of the communities they perform in.

The Prince Albert performance will be no different.

It won’t just be a monetary donation. Mackey said Jake’s Gift will also donate a print called Fallen Heroes created by the Canadian Fallen Heroes Foundation, to the local Legion branch.

The Canadian Fallen Heroes Foundation is aiming to create a memorial plaque for every Canadian killed in the line of duty from the Boer War to Afghanistan. To do that, they sell the Fallen Heroes print.

The founder of that Foundation comes from the same, small BC town as Mackey and her partner and stage manager, Dirk Van Stralen.

“Even though the two things were created completely separately from one another, it actually depicts a scene that happens in Jake’s Gift,” Mackey explained.

That element of giving back is important to Mackey.

“So much of what the veterans and the soldiers did …. Was on a volunteer basis. Giving back is a big part of what we want to do.”

Mackey said she is especially excited to bring the show to a Saskatchewan community.

Saskatchewan was among the provinces that had the most people join up to fight per capita across Canada.

Jake’s Gift will run on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. It’s 65 minutes long with no intermission. Macey says it’s recommended for everyone aged about Grade 5 or 6 and up.

“It’s always a wide range of audience members we get,” she said.

“We hope that people will come out and help us commemorate the soldiers that never got to come home and then also pay tribute to our veterans.”