Hardline Productions’ Director and Co-Writer, Sean Harris Oliver goes in-depth about the conception and development of REDPATCH which is on April 12-16 at Studio 16. REDPATCH is the story of an Aboriginal soldier fighting in World War One. Sean discusses Canadian history, the artistic challenges of the show, and introduces the interactive website Hardline has created to accompany the show.
Tell us about the show.
Raes Calvert and I started creating and developing REDPATCH long ago. It was 2011 and I was performing in Vern Thiessen’s play Vimy, which is about five Canadian soldiers in a recovery room after the battle of Vimy Ridge. Raes had come to see me in the show, and after the show he and I got to talking about one of the characters in the play. The character was a First Nations soldier loosely based on a Canadian aboriginal veteran named Mike Mountain Horse. Raes noted that his grandfather (of aboriginal descent) had fought in World War II, and we both became really interested in how First Nations soldiers had fought for Canada in previous wars. So Raes and I started doing some research into our Canadian history, and that is where the idea of REDPATCH was born.
One of the main things that we hope audiences take away from REDPATCH is an understanding of the significant contribution that First Nations soldiers made for Canada during the First World War. Many aboriginal soldiers who fought for Canada reached near legendary status as trench-raiders, reconnaissance scouts, and snipers, and Raes and I feel that this is a piece of Canadian history that must be shared on stage. Canadian citizens must know about and understand how aboriginal soldiers and communities impacted that war.
Obviously there is a great deal of history involved in World War I, and it just wasn’t possible for Raes and I to write all that history into the play. So one of the really great things we did with this show is we created an interactive learning website that accompanies the play: www.redpatch.ca. Our hope is that audiences will be inspired by REDPATCH and want to learn more about the themes and topics that we bring up in the play. If audiences want to do that, they can visit the website and learn more about “the Great War.” The website was built with the assistance of Heritage Canada, and it’s a great resource for helping people understand this period in Canadian history.
Why is it called REDPATCH?
Oh man! We get this question all the time. So this is where the name comes from… During the 1916 battle of the Somme (hey, do you want to know more about that battle? Visit the website), the British officers weren’t able to tell their troops apart from the other colonial troops. You see, at the time Canada was still a part of the British Empire, and so our military uniforms looked a lot like the British military uniforms; which also looked a lot like all the other colonial military uniforms (Australia, Newfoundland, India, etc.). So what the British officers decided to do, in order to distinguish Canadian soldiers apart from other colonial soldiers, was they gave Canadians a single red patch to put on the shoulder of their uniform. If you were a Canadian soldier, you had a red patch on your arm. A red patch meant you were a Canadian. That’s where the name for our show comes from.
The casting for this show is very unique. Tell us about it and why those choices were made.
For this production we decided to cast the play with a completely indigenous cast. This choice doesn’t represent naturalistic casting. Most of the characters in the play are actually of European descent, and most of the characters are male; however, I felt that given the subject matter of REDPATCH that it would be special to go with a conceptual form of casting. This choice in casting allowed us to cast an equal balance of female to male actors, and also allowed for a showcasing of the immensely talented aboriginal actors that are part of the Vancouver community. In a world where artistic diversity and inclusive casting are so important, I am very proud that this production of REDPATCH will highlight the following aboriginal nations: Algonquin, Cree, Dene, Huron, Inuk, Kaska, Métis, Micmac, Nippissing and Tahltan.
Why should people come see this show?
REDPATCH is going to premiere on the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Honestly, the historical significance of this moment is a big enough reason why audiences should attend this play.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge is one of the most defining moments in our national history. Between April 7 – 12, 1917 all four Canadian infantry divisions fought side-by-side for the first time ever, and we took a piece of French ridgeline that the Germans had held for nearly three years. No one in the world could take Vimy. The British basically asked Canada to create a diversion, so that the Brits could take a different piece of land, but the little nation of Canada knocked the Germans off the hill. It was a defining moment in Canadian history.
REDPATCH is a can’t miss show. The Globe and Mail actually pointed out that REDPATCH is one of the most exciting theatrical events happening this year. This play is for anyone interested in our Canadian identity, how First Nations people have helped this country, and anyone who is at all interested in military history.
Tell us about the artistic challenges.
Yes, portraying the Great War on stage is going to be a really artistically challenging part of this show.
Over the years Hardline Productions has become known for our incorporation of physical theatre into our plays. I think audiences are going to be totally surprised about how much can be communicated through the use of what I like to call “theatre magic.” Audiences are going to be immersed into the world of this play. They will be immersed in the trenches of World War I. The “creeping barrage” will be whistling overhead, chlorine gas is going to pour through the air, heavy shells will be raining down all around. I encourage audiences to get ready… REDPATCH is going to be a massive theatrical experience.
Get your tickets to REDPATCH now! The show runs April 12-16 at Studio 16 in La Maison de la Francophonie de Vancouver on West 7th Avenue in Vancouver.