Classic Christmas play’s themes still relevant today

NANAIMO – John Barsby's Bulldog Theatre students perform Its A Wonderful Life for the first time at newly named Chandler Hall.

For John Barsby Community School drama teacher Tom Rokeby and his students, this year’s winter production strikes an emotional chord.

Beginning on Dec. 12, the students at Bulldog Theatre will be performing the 1940s classic film It’s a Wonderful Life at Chandler Hall at John Barsby Community School.

The performances also marks the first time that Bulldog Theatre will perform at the newly named Chandler Hall, which was recently named in honour of former Barsby teacher Bruce Chandler.

“I am going to be thinking a lot about this man who gave so much of himself to our kids and this neighbourhood,” Rokeby said.

Chandler died this summer after he injured himself while doing yard work. Rokeby said the chef teacher had a significant impact on students and staff members that he encountered throughout the years.

“Just by the nature of our neighbourhood we deal with a lot of kids that are really looking for a sense of belonging,” Rokeby said. “Bruce was another place where kids could come and find a passion and it would keep them in school and he made people graduate.

“To see all those people come back and honour him is touching and a motivating factor,” he added.

Roughly 40 students are involved in ensuring that this year’s production of the 1940s Christmas classic runs smoothly in Chandler Hall.

“We want to try and recreate those iconic images and those favourite characters but in a live setting and give our students the challenge in finding something new,” Rokeby said.

He said that as soon as the students learned that they would be doing It’s a Wonderful Life, they would not be recreating the movie of the same title.

“We have to find our own imagery, we have to find our own vision, we have to find our own George Bailey, and our own Bedford Falls,” he said.

“The audience will be impressed with the sophisticated design that they will be looking at,” he added.

The production of It’s a Wonderful Life is the longest production ever put on by Bulldog Theatre.

Aside from the Christmas theme in It’s a Wonderful Life, Rokeby says the production will resonate with a lot of people given the current economic times.

“When you watch it as an eight-year-old kid you don’t really understand the background behind the bank versus the Bailey building and loan and how hard it is to think about being a homeowner,” he said. “I think this play is coming back into favour in the United States in a big way because people are facing just these issues in their real life.”

It’s a Wonderful Life is showing on Dec. 12-14, with a matinee at 2 p.m., on Dec. 14 at Chandler Hall at John Barsby Community School. Tickets are $10; $5/students; $20/family (maximum 2 adults).

For more student theatre, please see page B4.