The play that Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman describes as “a great gift to the community” commemorates the Great War by localizing it, while adding a dash of gender-bending casting.
We Must Have More Men was produced initially last year, and to great success. It’s being brought back in November to tie in with Remembrance Day, says Iain Maggoch, Theatre by the Bay’s Executive Director.
World War One commemorations also play a role, honouring Base Borden and the Battle of Vimy Ridge’s 100th anniversary, which Maggoch refers to as “a turning point in the war, and in Canadian history in many ways.”
Maggoch wanted to take part in these commemorations and “contribute something in the way that we can to the preservation and exploration of our local history.” Barrie’s strong military history (and connection to it) is exemplified by “the military park in the south end and many of the street names in the community are named after those lost at war,” according to Maggoch.
“One of the central characters in the play is a man named Private Ernest Hanmer, for instance, whom Hanmer Street is named after. Barrie was also a large contributor to the war effort, with the local Red Cross raising the most funds in Canada,” according to Maggoch.
“We were a very, very patriotic community and as a result, we gave a lot to the war and in many ways experienced the consequences of that as well,” he says.
Justina Calderwood, one of the leaders of the Red Cross, is also depicted in the play which delves into her initial fervour and enthusiasm and how, as the war went on, there was a feeling of increasing burnout.
At that time, nobody knew when the war would end, “how do you continue to raise funds? How do you continue to ask the community of Barrie to continue to give when you don’t know when the end is or if it will ever end?” explains Maggoch.
They also do a bit of “gender bending” when casting characters like Clifford Herrell, the first boy from Barrie who died overseas, played by Marissa Caldwell. “It’s sort of a homage to the fact that, at the time, women had to play men’s roles in the community whether it was going to work,” says Maggoch.
The title of the play itself is a reflection of the propaganda and recruitment art of that era, “they had many of these epic call to action titles and we wanted to capture that with the title of our own show as well as in the marketing of it,” says Maggoch.
Several military officials have come out to see the play, “and commended us for taking this project on”, including the son of Jack Svitzer, a student who lied about his age in order to enlist. They got a call from Jack Svitzer’s son who heard about the show and came up to see it, “he got to see his Dad played by a local Barrie youth and tell his Dad’s story,” says Maggoch.
The play is touring across the county with two weeks of performances in Barrie at Trinity Anglican Church and then Base Borden for a week at the Terra Theatre. Collingwood residents can look forward to a couple of performances there in collaboration with Theatre Collingwood.
“The scale of it has certainly increased for this year, but it’s still the same story if people saw it last year and loved it they’ll find new things about it,” says Maggoch.
This audience includes youth in the community who have daytime performances put aside for them, only three of which are left. “More than 1000 students have already been confirmed to see the show” says Maggoch.
He also worked closely with Grey and Simcoe Foresters and Base Borden their friends at Base Borden in “telling these local stories of real people and suddenly we make World War One a local story.”
For tickets and information, visit: www.theatrebythebay.com/we-must-have-more-men/.