Jake’s Gift is a multi-award winning Canadian one-woman play about a World War II veteran’s reluctant return to Normandy, France, for the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. While revisiting the shores of Juno Beach, Jake encounters Isabelle, a precocious 10-year-old from the local village. Isabelle’s inquisitive nature and charm challenge the old soldier to confront some long-ignored ghosts, most notably the war-time death of his eldest brother Chester, a once promising young musician. At its heart, Jake’s Gift is about the legacy of remembrance and makes personal the story behind one soldier’s grave.
“Way back in 2002 I attended an intense three-week mask characterization theatre workshop. My mask reminded me of an old man. The story was a bit different then. Jake failed his physical because he was injured and had to cope with the guilt of not going to war. Then one night I was watching television and saw a special on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. I decided to travel over there,” said Julia Mackie, sole actor in Jake’s Gift. Mackie attended many ceremonies, walked the coastline and interviewed dozens of veterans who had returned for the occasion. “My husband Dirk predicted what would happen, and he was right. I listened to the veterans and found Jake’s voice. Jake became a veteran. It took two more years to write the play. I still had to develop the character of Isabelle.”
Since 2007, Jake’s Gift has gone on to play at festivals and theatres in over 200 communities across Canada, as well as international visits to Washington State, the UK and most recently, Normandy, France, for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. Now in their eighth year of touring, Juno Productions and Jake’s Gift continue to garner awards and rave reviews whether playing in small rural towns or big city centres. “I can speak some French, but I am by no means bilingual. I decided I needed to learn to deliver the play in French. I guess it’s mostly by rote. I got to perform twice right on Juno Beach. During the performance when I mentioned Isabelle’s house I was actually pointing to the house that I imagined was Isabelle’s, and when I referred to landing on the beach I was actually on the beach,” said Mackie. The response was very positive for both performances. “I think the audience was moved by the fact I was obviously not French yet I was trying my hardest. And they recognized I had come to that place, gone back to Canada and written a play about their town and its people. The response was beautiful. A little girl came to one performance with her schoolmates and then came to the second performance with her mother. The play references maple leaves many times. Each time I mentioned maple leaves she would wave a little Canadian flag she brought with her.”
Mackie has performed Jake’s Gift over 700 times. “My husband keeps checking in with me to see if I am tired of performing the play and my answer is always ‘no’. I love it so much. The performances touch the audience. I get to meet some really great people including military families. They really understand the play. It may be about WWII, but the themes of survivor’s guilt, remembrance and passing on legacies are still very relevant today.”
Julia Mackey was born in Birmingham, England. Her family moved to Canada when she was three-years old. She grew up in Montreal, and received an education degree from McGill University before heading west in 1993 to pursue a career in theatre. When not touring with Jake’s Gift, Julia splits her time between Vancouver, BC and the historic community of Wells in the Cariboo District of BC. In August 2012, Julia received a a Betty Mitchell Calgary Theatre Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Drama. Jake’s Gift was also nominated for Outstanding Production.
Please visit www.jakesgift.com for upcoming performances across Canada.