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West steps back in time at Phoenix Theatre

ON STAGE What: West Where: Phoenix Theatre, University of Victoria When: Previews Oct. 10, 11, opens Oct. 12 through 21 Tickets: $8 to $26 More information: phoenixtheatres.
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Danette Boucher stars in her play Lady Overlander and James Douglas stars in The Fred Wells Show.

ON STAGE

What: West
Where: Phoenix Theatre, University of Victoria
When: Previews Oct. 10, 11, opens Oct. 12 through 21
Tickets: $8 to $26
More information: phoenixtheatres.ca, box office: 250-721-8000

 

 

Danette Boucher scoured the Times Colonist for a job after graduating from theatre school in Victoria in 1989, and found an ad seeking “an actor or outgoing person to play Emily Carr.”

“I had to research and write a piece about her and then got to play her at Emily Carr House in James Bay,” Boucher said.

Working in the past became her future career — Boucher went on to write and perform historical figures and theatre throughout Victoria and Barkerville. She lives in Wells, near Barkerville, with her husband, actor and director James Douglas, and their eight-year-old twin daughters.

Boucher and Douglas will perform two of her historical plays at the Phoenix Theatre at the University of Victoria this month for a production called West, which pays tribute to B.C. pioneers during the Gold Rush.

Lady Overlander tells the true story of Catherine O’Hare Schubert, who walked from Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) to Kamloops in 1862 while pregnant, as part of the Overlanders, a group of about 150 men headed to the Cariboo gold fields.

“It’s one of those epic journeys about how hard it was to travel at that time and how strong the lure of gold was,” said Boucher, 51.

Douglas is Fred Marshall Wells in The Fred Wells Show, a play that reveals how the founder of the town of Wells helped save local families from poverty by striking gold in the midst of the Great Depression.

“He was known to be a reclusive nice guy who liked pancakes, but there was not a lot to be gleaned about him,” said Douglas, 44, who has performed the show in Wells and as far away as Mexico. “Although the show is about a specific time and event, there are universal themes — a sense of adventure and passion, that sense of perseverance for noble reasons.”

Boucher and Douglas were at UVic at different times and didn’t get to know each other until both ended up with gigs in Barkerville in the late 1990s. But Douglas, who grew up in Vernon, credits an earlier encounter with his wife as one of the reasons he became an actor.

“When I was in the seventh grade, we went on a class trip to see a play, [George Bernard Shaw’s] Androcoles and the Lion, in Chase. Danette was in the show, we figured out later,” he said. “I was so amazed by the outdoor play, I asked my mom to get me into my first drama class.”

Boucher and Douglas maintain a strong connection to Victoria, often coming for work. For 13 years, they have helped script and direct the historical-character theatre program at the legislature.

This spring, they were in town to shoot The Doctor’s Case, a film Douglas wrote and directed based on a Stephen King-penned Sherlock Holmes story.

Last year, Douglas applied for the rights to make a non-commercial film based on the story through King’s Dollar Babies program, which allows aspiring filmmakers to adapt the author’s stories for $1.

Douglas was approved and raised funds to make the independent film, which was shot at locations around Victoria such as Bastion Square, Emily Carr House and Craigdarroch Castle.

Douglas said he has submitted a first cut of the film to the Sundance Film Festival and will send King a final cut in a few months.

He and Boucher said their connections in the historical and theatre worlds in Victoria helped in securing locations and assistance on the film.

“Victoria has a really strong heritage and theatre community that work together well,” Boucher said.

The two are developing a show about another couple, and Douglas’s namesake, whom he has yet to play in a major role.

“It’s a full-length musical about Sir James Douglas and Amelia Douglas,” he said.

The fur trader and first governor of the colony of Vancouver Island had a fascinating history, Douglas said.

He was a mixed-race man who appeared mostly white and was married to a half-Cree woman, who was known to advise him on Aboriginal relations.

He established the Douglas Treaties with several First Nations on the Island, which continue to be debated and used in modern treaty negotiations.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com