Mrs. McGinley was a character who performed in Barkerville in the 1870s, but today she graces 21st-century stages more often than not to raise funds for communities throughout the province.
On May 10, the Phoenix Tour came to Martin Exeter Hall in 100 Mile House. Mrs. McGinley’s Gold Rush Variety Show presented an evening of live music, poetry and tap-dancing while raising funds for 100 Mile’s Performing Arts Society. Friday’s production included plenty of history, coupled with an abundance of comedy.
The show was inspired by the fire of September 16, 1868, which destroyed both the original Theatre Royal and much of the historic town of Barkerville, leading to the formation of the Williams Creek Fire Brigade and the new Theatre Royal.
This year, Barkerville celebrates the 150 anniversary of rebuilding that theatre and the entertainment the company has provided ever since. The Theatre Royal of Barkerville is operated by the Newman and Wright Theatre Company, owned by Amy Newman and Richard Wright. Newman stars in the titular role of Mrs. McGinley, while producer Richard Wright handles plenty behind the scenes.
This is the 16th season that Newman and Wright have been with the Theatre Royal.
“We’re the longest running company that’s operated at the theatre in modern times,” Wright told the audience Friday.
The producer has compared interior communities like Barkerville to the legendary Phoenix, which rose from the ashes just as communities like 100 Mile House recovered from recent challenging wildfire seasons. By bringing the Phoenix Tour to residents throughout the Interior between May 3 and 12, the company hopes to remind British Columbians of their collective resilience.
“We had the idea of doing a tour to celebrate the resilience of our northern communities,” said Wright during the show’s introduction.
Joy Peters is the company box office manager for the Theatre Royal and was excited to bring the production to 100 Mile House but extended the invitation for residents to enjoy the show themselves in Barkerville: “We’re super excited for the season [there] as well, so if you’re headed up, come to say ‘Hi’ at the theatre.”
The company brought the Theatre Royal to 100 Mile House for a benefit performance of Mrs. McGinley’s Gold Rush Variety Show in August 2017, with admission by donation to the South Cariboo Fire Relief Fund. The company also performed in 100 Mile in 2015, when it donated proceeds of more than $6,800 to flood relief for Cache Creek residents.
This year the group received a $5,000 donation from the New Pathways to Gold Society through their Small Projects Program, designed to assist projects that encourage economic development through heritage tourism, First Nations reconciliation and multiculturalism.
The donation helped to lower the tour’s costs, enabling the production to raise more money for each community it performs in.
Karen Smith is the treasurer of the 100 Mile Performing Arts Society and was present Friday to help sell tickets and recruit new members, too. Over 160 tickets were sold to Friday’s show. The Performing Arts Society plans to use the event’s proceeds to build a new stage in Martin Exeter Hall.
Producer Richard Wright is proud of the history his theatre company retains, specifically its ability to continue sharing songs that many have long forgotten: “We have collected all those songs and we take some pride in the fact that we’re probably the only people still singing these songs, and if we didn’t… they would disappear.”
“We often think about songs being collected in the southern states,” said Wright, “But all the songs that we do, 80 per cent of these songs were sung in 1869 or before.”
Friday’s performance was full of Cariboo-themed lyrics and country humour. The cast even managed to bring 100 Mile’s Mayor Mitch Campsall on stage as a volunteer for a performance that had him oinking alongside the cast in a variation of “Old McDonald Had a Farm”.
The five on-stage performers all played an instrument of their own, which made for a great live sound. Newman told the audience that cast members started rehearsals at the end of April and performed their first show just ten days later.
Patrick Courtin played both the piano and the role of Professor Jean Baptiste Riviere, Theo Budd starred in the role of Mr. Fisher, Amy Newman played Abigail McGinley, Simon Paterson played the part of Major William Downey and Lucy Sim portrayed Miss Dolly John.
“Round the Corner Sally” was another standout song. Considered a sea shanty or chantey, the song uses an alternating solo and chorus to replicate the kind of music originally sung by sailors performing physical labour together. “Round the Corner Sally” told the story of gold rush travellers who had to go all the way around Cape Horn in South America to reach North America.
The troupe even offered a few tunes in other languages, such as French and Gaelic.
After their final song, the performers honoured a request from audience member Chris Nickless’ for an encore, performing a quick version of the classic, “Cariboo Wagon Road.”
Closing the show, the performers received a final question from the audience: “Will you come back next year?”