Fifteen years ago, Julia Mackey traveled to the shores of Normandy to observe the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. There she not only attended ceremonies and expressed her gratitude to the veterans of Operation Overlord; she was also gathering material for a one-woman play.
“That week was truly one of the most emotional experiences of my life,” the Wells-based actor and writer said.
Mackey had developed a Second World War veteran character, Jake, in a theatre workshop a few years earlier, but knew there was more to his story. While in Normandy she conducted interviews with veterans to help discover what that story was.
“I was so emotional that I just wanted to thank them for their service and then I’d start crying and then they’d start comforting me, which was pretty funny…” Makey said. “And then if I felt like they wanted to keep chatting then I would ask them if I could record our conversation.”
That amalgamation of stories and experiences form the basis for Mackey’s play, Jake’s Gift, in which a Canadian veteran attending a D-Day memorial in Normandy meets a young French girl who helps him confront his traumatic past.
“I really liked the strength of this being a multi-generational story,” she said. “I liked the idea of the legacy of remembrance, of passing that on and truly it was what I witnessed when I was there. So many young French children would come up to the veterans and thank them for their service. And the way that the French families have preserved the legacy of that remembrance is so moving.”
Mackey and her partner and director Dirk Van Stralen have staged Jake’s Gift all over Canada and in the United States, England and France for the past 13 years. In December Mackey gave her 1,000th performance. From April 25 to 29 Mackey presents Jake’s Gift at Malaspina Theatre – her first Nanaimo shows since 2010.
Mackey returned to Normandy to perform Jake’s Gift at the Juno Beach on the invasion’s 70th anniversary in 2014 and this summer she’s heading back for the 75th.
Mackey said each time she goes back there are fewer veterans in attendance, but she said she and Van Stralen are doing what they can to make sure that they are not forgotten.
“We were at a very moving funeral yesterday for one of the D-Day veterans that we’ve met over the last dozen years and so I’m very aware that that generation is leaving us now and so it’s important to me to keep telling that story,” she said.
WHAT’S ON … TheatreOne presents Jake’s Gift at Malaspina Theatre on April 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. and April 27 at 2 and 7:20 p.m. Tickets are $30 for adults, $15 for students.