In these times: Fringe play by BU profs finds hope in Winnipeg General Strike of 1919

July 10, 2018

BRANDON – Root Sky Productions, a political theatre company led by Brandon University (BU) professors, will premiere its latest offering at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival.

Bill Pritchard’s Address to the Jury, a play about the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, opens at Venue 11, Red River College (160 Princess St.) in Winnipeg on July 19 and ends its run of eight shows on July 29.

James Forsythe dresses in character, wearing a sportcoat and a cap, looking to the right side of the image with his arms folded and holding a book with the title "Marx & Engels" visible

James Forsythe stars in “Bill Pritchard’s Address to the Jury,” a Fringe Festival play that opens on Thursday, July 19 in Winnipeg.

Root Sky is best known for its hit plays Misty Lake and Stretching Hide, which delve into contemporary First Nations and Métis subject matter. Stretching Hide was the winner of the BC Theatre National Playwriting Competition in 2004, and Misty Lake was held over at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in 1999.

This year’s show was written by Dale Lakevold, an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at BU, to mark the 99th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.

“In these turbulent times we’re going through today it seems necessary to look back to another such era of profound social change in order to gain more insight,” says Lakevold. “We can find hope in the story of strike leader and socialist Bill Pritchard who inspired people in Winnipeg and across Canada with his vision of equality for all.”

Pritchard visited Winnipeg for a week during the strike and was later convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government. He spent a year in Stony Mountain and was met by 14,000 Winnipeggers on the day he was released in 1921.

At his trial Pritchard, a gifted orator, gave an eloquent defence that lasted some 20 hours over two full days. It was published as a 215-page book later that year.

In the play Bill Pritchard’s Address to the Jury, a present-day university professor delivers a talk on Pritchard’s remarkable career as a strike leader, union organizer, and public speaker. In the course of his talk, the professor loses himself in the labyrinth of left-wing politics, past and present, but finds meaning in the Winnipeg General Strike that will guide him and the audience through the turmoil of our times.

The production features veteran performer James Forsythe, who has appeared on major stages in Canada such as the Citadel (Edmonton), Stage West (Calgary), Young Peoples Theatre (Toronto), Teesri Duniya (Montreal), and Theatre Projects Manitoba (Winnipeg). He has worked in professional theatre as an actor, director, and playwright since 1976, and is currently head of the Drama program at BU.

Playwright Dale Lakevold’s plays include Never Never Mind, Kurt Kurt Cobain; L-Love’s Body; and Stretching Hide (Theatre Projects Manitoba). His publications include Misty Lake (Loon Books) and Stretching Hide (Scirocco Drama). Both were co-written with his collaborator in Root Sky, Darrell Racine, who chairs BU’s Department of Native Studies.

For more information, contact Lakevold at lakevold@hotmail.com or stage manager Nancy McLennan at nellymills@gmail.com.