The threat of school closure has the Keppoch Mountain people springing into action in a musical comedy playing Sunday, Sept. 22, at the deCoste Centre.
The need to save the community school will resonate with people, particularly in the rural parts of Pictou County, says producer Duncan MacDonald.
‘Nobody wants to lose their school. You saw that in River John not so long ago and the same story played out in many communities through the years,” he said.
In this seventh production by Ships of 1801, which is peppered with new and traditional music, story-telling and razor-edged Celtic wit, the Keppoch folk have been told they have to raise $25 for their share of the teacher’s salary. For that hefty price they expect some say in the hiring although the inspector of schools disagrees.
“They hold a fundraising concert because they are rich in talent and quite short of cash,” said MacDonald, praising the high calibre of talent among the cast of 40 which ranges in age from six to 89.
The show had three consecutive sell-outs during Highland Games week in Antigonish and will be in Mabou the night before coming to Pictou.
“We’ve always done a Sunday afternoon show in PIctou. We’ve always had a good crowd and we sold out last year so we’re sticking with a 2 pm start.”
Singer Ann Holton, who has appeared in previous shows is back and her daughter, Miele Melong, will be among the show’s youngest fiddlers. Also returning is Katey Aucoin of Stellarton who sings, fiddles and dances.
“One of the strengths of the shows, we think, is having people of all ages perform together so we’re very happy Ann is bringing her daughter on stage with her. Both Ann and Katey are very talented additions to the cast.”
As with previous Keppoch shows, there are a number of storylines in play, including the competition for the teaching position.
“One of the candidates is a young girl from the Keppoch who went to Boston to work and got a year’s teaching training while there. The other is a very well educated, hard-nosed fellow who believes discipline is the backbone of education.”
MacDonald allows his stern views may be partly shaped by a misadventure with an outdoor toilet at a previous teaching post.
“He also believes Latin is the language of the classroom and Gaelic is a language fit only for the barnyard so that does not sit very well with many in the community.”
Another element of the show is an unlikely romance between a dyed-in-the wool bachelor and a widow played by Theatre Antigonish’s Laura Teasdale.
“People tell us there is an element of nostalgia to the show because they remember or have heard stories of the one room school and the tight-knit rural communities where everyone pulled together.”
He noted Antigonish County once had 84 schools, many of them in small rural communities.
“I can only guess Pictou County would have had more, in places such as Merigomish, Sunny Brae, West Branch and Pictou Landing.”
He added the script is adapted slightly for each location.
“We’ll try and throw in a few references to Pictou County people or places or events.”
The Ships of 1801 Facebook page introduces the show’s cast. Tickets are available at the deCoste Centre.
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