In the 1890s the merchants of Edmonton decided to cash in on the Klondike Gold Rush by marketing their city as the place from which to head off to the goldfields. People came to Edmonton from all over the continent and about 1,500 of them set out for the Klondike. But they’d been misled about the harsh conditions they would face and only 100 of them made it — the rest died or turned back.
Nellie Garner, one of very few women who attempted the trip, made it not only to the Klondike, but more than a century later into a new play The Passage, written and directed by Adriana Bogaard and running this weekend and next as part of the Nelson Summer Theatre Festival.
Fascinated by risk
“I want the audience to feel what I felt when I read about this: fascination with the risks people will take for an unproven gain, especially at that time,” says Bogaard. “I want them to go away inspired by that but also understanding how hard it is.
“Nellie is very determined,” Bogaard continues. “She’s a kind of a take-no-bullshit person, very strong willed and ambitious. You would have to be.”
Jen Viens in The Passage (Photo Adriana Bogaard)
A former Nelson theatre kid
Bogaard, 29, grew up in Nelson as one of those theatre kids Nelson seems to specialize in. But she was not primarily an actor; her passion was the design of costumes and sets.
“I was involved in high school with [drama teacher] Geoff Burns who was instrumental in getting me excited about theatre. When I was in Grade 11 we went to England with him. After that I fell in with Richard Rowberry, did a few shows with him, did a few with [Michael Graham’s] Living Room Theatre, and did a few of my own as a designer. I worked on [Nelson productions of] Jesus Christ Superstar, The Secret Garden, Mary Poppins, and Songs for a New World.”
During all this activity over the past decade she has left and then re-appeared in Nelson several times, most often returning to bring us another theatre piece or enhance someone else’s. Currently she is heading into her third year of the set and costume design program at the National Theatre School in Montreal.
Jen Viens and Adriana Bogaard (Bill Metcalfe photo)
One actor, five characters
There are five characters in The Passage, all played by Jen Viens of Montreal, previously from Penticton. She has appeared several times on Nelson stages, each time as part of a Bogaard project.
“There is a strong feminist component to this play,” says Viens. “It is about a woman digging deep into herself, forging a path in a time when that did not happen.
“I love that it is such a physical piece and that is also the greatest challenge. I know nothing about being a pioneer woman. It is so far removed from my knowledge base, I really have to go out on a limb and search within the character and do the research and trust that the story is there and Nellie will take care of it.”
‘The piece looks beautiful’
Viens is impressed with the visual aspects of the production.
“The piece looks beautiful. We have some some beautiful projections. I love the lighting, the mood, and the physical aspect of the piece. And not only that but the story is so interesting. We don’t ever hear about the women in the gold rush other than the cooks or the prostitutes.”
Bogaard says audiences will be surprised by the look and atmosphere of The Passage.
“We have done our best to make an innovative piece technically, especially for Nelson. A lot of what is done here is musicals or plays that have been done before. Part of the reason I have the guts to do this piece is growing up here and seeing people like Lucas [Myers], Bessie [Wapp] and Nicola [Harwood] make original pieces here. But it does not happen very often, other than Lucas.
“It is so important to me to get those plays out there. If nobody does them the audience is not there. And then people don’t do them because they think the audience is not there.”
Jen Viens as Nellie (Osheen Harruthoonyan photo)
Rowberry lauds Bogaard
Richard Rowberry, the producer of the summer theatre festival, says Bogaard is essential to its success.
“Adriana is one of the most amazing theatre people I have ever encountered,” he says. “She has so many skills. She is the genius behind this. Every year I get some crazy ideas about what to do in the summer and then later I realize I have no idea how to do it. Like this festival this summer, there is no way I could have done this. At the last minute, like the cavalry showing up, Adriana comes along and does it for me.”
The Passage runs Friday through Sunday at 9 p.m., and Aug. 27 to 29 at 7 p.m. at the TNT Playhouse at the corner of Ward and Carbonate. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students), available at Booksmyth, 338 Baker St. For more information go to nelsonsummertheatre.com.