Later this month, theatre students at Archbishop Jordan Catholic High School are getting ready to perform a piece of Canadiana.
The fine arts classes are preparing Unity (1918), a Canadian play written by Kevin Kerr that chronicles the end of World War One and the Spanish Flu Epidemic that struck shortly after.
“Unity (1918) captures the four weeks in 1918 that surrounded two major events in Canadian history. The end of World War I and the beginning of the Spanish Flu Epidemic, which in the first four weeks of the epidemic killed more people from the flu than four years of fighting in World War I,” explained Dustin Maloney, fine arts lead and drama and technical theatre teacher at ABJ. “It is a forgotten aspect of our history and we recount and recall world wars but this event seems to have faded from Canadian memory and I think Kevin Kerr really wanted to bring this back to the Canadian consciousness.”
The play is a heart-wrenching drama that follows the lives of the people in the town of Unity, Saskatchewan as they deal with the returning soldiers and the flu epidemic.
“The end of WWI was such a positive time but it was juxtaposed by the inability to celebrate because of the medical war they then had to fight at home,” he said. “There are a lot of references in the play for characters who feel there is an inability to feel happy for the end of the war because they are still struggling with the epidemic that was occurring in their lives.”
The teacher said it is a very interesting time period in Canada because the flu was brought back to the country by many of the returning soldiers.
“You had this extreme conflict of the celebratory nature of soldiers coming home and wanting to celebrate their return but the knowledge that they were bringing back something with them that could be detrimental to Canadians and there was a real struggle within the characters to justify their own fright and worry about the Spanish flu and celebrate the end of the war,” Maloney noted.
The play is definitely something that Albertans can identify with.
“The play is absolutely full of Canadiana and I think really captures the essence in what it is to be western Canadian although it takes place in a very different time period than our own,” explained Maloney. “It feels like Saskatchewan or Alberta and has very rural roots and the language just has a very Canadian feel to it.”
This is the first time that Maloney has had students perform the play and he is excited to see all the work they have put in come to life.
There are three evening shows, Nov. 26, 27 and 28, at 7 p.m. at Festival Place, with tickets available still.
Tickets are available at Festival Place, ABJ’s front office or on Ticketmaster at $15 for students and seniors or $18 for general admission.