MABOU: The legacy of an iconic performer will be celebrated on the weekend of Nov. 19 as the West Side Performing Arts Co-operative (WESPAC) takes to the stage of Strathspey Place.
“I think people want to celebrate John Allen and think back on what he started,” said Brenda MacLennan-Dunphy, WESPAC chair.
She and the rest of her group will be staging ‘John Allan Cameron’s Last Show” on Friday and Saturday night, Nov. 19-20. The curtain rises at 7 p.m.
The stage production is a retelling of the last episode of The John Allan Cameron Show, a CBC variety program that ran for two seasons in 1979-80. The production stars Peter MacInnis as the titular character and Jacqueline Boyd as his mother, Katie Ann.
The plot revolves around Cameron hosting his program. As he introduces his guests, performs musical numbers, and goes about his hosting duties, he’s watched from the side of the stage by Katie Ann.
“She does the running commentary on his life, growing up in Glencoe, all that stuff,” MacLennan-Dunphy said. “As I did my research on John Allen, his mother kept popping up. I think she was pivotal to the way he evolved.”
MacLennan-Dunphy not only wrote the production, but she’s also serving as director and producer. She said the idea for bringing John Allen’s story to the stage came from watching YouTube clips of the performer and then reaching out to his family. It was John Allen’s son, Stuart, who first spoke to MacLennan-Dunphy.
Stuart was very pleased to hear from the director, MacLennan-Dunphy said. The family doesn’t always hear from people doing projects relating to John Allen’s life, she added.
“They were very intent on being a part of the process, so I collected stories from them,” MacLennan-Dunphy said.
She added that she hopes everyone enjoys the upcoming shows, which will be a combination of storytelling and music.
“It’s great to get people together from different communities to do something that’s creative and fun,” she said. “It’s not the sort of thing you can do very often, so it’s nice to pull it together.”
WESPAC was formed in 2012 by Diana McKinnon, and she was a key part of the group until her death in 2015. It was at that point that MacLennan-Dunphy took creative control.
“She had a real desire to help people feel empowered,” MacLennan-Dunphy said of McKinnon, adding that the group still wants to make people feel that the arts are accessible to them.
“We’re planning to do a workshop in January to see if we can get people interested in writing, directing or acting,” she said. “We want to develop people’s confidence so they can do it themselves.
“We’re trying to evolve a theatre culture, and we’re hoping other people want to be involved.”
John Allen Cameron’s contributions to the arts include releasing multiple albums and earning a reputation as “The Godfather of Celtic Music in Canada.” He was the centrepiece of The John Allen Cameron Show, was a recipient of the East Coast Music Award’s Lifetime Achievement Award and, in 2003, was named to the Order of Canada.
He died on November 22, 2006.
Tickets for the upcoming shows are available by visiting: www.strathspeyplace.com.