In Barkerville, the show must go on

History Town 2014 (Living in the Past) by vanstralen

Most everyone knows the old show business adage “the show must go on!” I would argue, however, that only those people who work as live entertainers truly understand what the phrase means, because we’ve all been there. We have all pressed through illness, tragedy, and any manner of unforeseen circumstances to make sure that the show does go on, no matter what. This season in Barkerville we have had more than our fair share of backstage shuffling, regrouping, re-rehearsing, and just plain “winging it” in order to make sure that our shows, presentations and programs happened despite several situations that caused our carefully practised material to fly right out the window.

The Theatre Royal was hit hard this year with upheaval. A mid-August cast change meant sudden and highly-pressured extra rehearsals were needed to craft a new version of their summer musical revue. A veteran performer quickly flew in from the coast to take on a role, and while the cast was admirably scrambling to get everything back into place, my husband covered some of the gaps in the theatre schedule by performing a solo piece that I wrote called The Fred Wells Show. The multi-talented partner of the Theatre Royal’s virtuoso piano player also dusted off her solo musical revue – a show she hasn’t performed for quite a while – remounting and performing it in record time. What a pro she is: the show was slick and clean, as if she had just completed a summer long run.

Just when things seemed back to normal at the theatre, a beloved long-standing performer fell seriously ill. This actress (who is also a remarkable singer and a good friend) would never, ever miss a show unless there was absolutely no alternative… but, in this case, there was no alternative so the rest of the cast was thrown back into rehearsal yet again, having only just started performing their recently rehearsed adaptation of the original version of their show, and in a matter of hours they had a third version ready to go. The audience had no idea, of course, that “cheat sheets” of new songs and set lists and the order of acts were surreptitiously taped here and there around the stage. This is what Barkerville performers do. We adapt, and we make sure what visitors experience onstage or in the street is as good as we’ve got, no matter what.

Earlier this season our team of Home Life interpreters quickly and efficiently covered every shift and scheduled program when Mrs. Bowron (a successful painter in her away-from-Barkerville world) made us all proud by winning Art Battle: Vancouver, which meant she suddenly and unexpectedly had to fly to Toronto to represent all of British Columbia in the national Art Battle finals. Mrs. Bowron’s co-workers stepped up so she could have the experience of a lifetime, and I am sure there wasn’t a single visitor who detected that they had been working overtime on her behalf – they made it look fresh and friendly, every time.

In July I caught a bad cold at the very same time our normally fresh mountain air was grey with residual smoke from surrounding forest fires. The resulting respiratory infection has, more than once now, knocked me off my feet. There was one day where I quite simply could not stop coughing long enough to commit to a 35-minute “Characters of the Cariboo” presentation I was scheduled for in the Kelly Saloon. The interpreter who plays our Billy Barker came in, on his one precious day off that week, to fill in for me. No one who attended his excellent discourse knew of the eleventh-hour scrambling that had occurred to ensure a show happened on time, in place, as scheduled.

This week one of my fellow interpreters (Mr. Smith on the street) heard the sounds my severely compromised vocal chords were producing on a particularly rough day and refused to let me struggle through a single town tour during my next two shifts. It’s the September “shoulder” season now, so he and I were the only street interpreters scheduled on those days, yet on top of all his other obligations our Mr. Smith voluntarily performed the equivalent of four, 65-minute solo shows in the span of 36 hours so that my voice could properly recover (and believe me, that was an incredible feat: the town tour by itself is a challenging program that requires high energy, vocal dexterity and an ability to adapt to our crazy local weather while walking uphill along half a mile of Barkerville’s main street).

Other programs and interpreters and actors and businesses have had to shift and stretch this summer to accommodate the craziness of life that still goes on while we’re smack in the middle of a Barkerville season. When we sign on for a five-month gig things are bound to happen. We know this, and we do our best to deal with it.

So the next time you’re visiting Barkerville, or any other Living History museum for that matter, please keep in mind that what you are witnessing on any given day might just be a show pulled together and polished in the face of adversity, by professionals who know how to make it look just right; to ensure that you have the best experience possible, no matter what. After all, the show must go on.

– Danette Boucher

The above one-panel cartoon (originally published September 13th, 2014) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the eighteenth of twenty weekly entries that were logged – and subsequently blogged – as part of a 2014 collaboration between Barkerville, British Columbia and the Prince George Citizen aimed at introducing some of the quirkier advantages to living, working, and playing in the Cariboo Goldfields. We hope you enjoy!