English Majors Experience Canadian Theatre & Art in Ottawa

RMCC English Majors Travel to Ottawa to experience Canadian theatre and art.

Theatre trip to Ottawa, funded by the RMC Club / Foundation

Article by 25688 OCdt (IV) Jackelyn Gignac

Photos Courtesy RMCC English Department

The second of two trips this semester for the RMC English Department on Tuesday, February 12 brought us to the National Art Gallery in downtown Ottawa, followed by a trip to The Gladstone theatre to see a musical production of John Gray’s “Billy Bishop Goes to War.”

Our first stop to the National Art Gallery was an eye-opening experience for all fifteen students and three English professors. There were several exhibitions to see, aside from the Gallery’s main collection, including a brilliant display of British photojournalist and humanist, Don McCullin’s photos of war-torn and poverty-stricken people across the globe; artist Martin Creed and his investigation concerning the physicality of experience with his “balloon room”; and a French film showing by artist Pierre Huyghe on fact vs. fiction. The Gallery’s own collection includes paintings and other works of art from such famous Canadian artists as Alex Colville, Emily Carr, and Tom Thomson, which were truly a marvel to see in person.

After we had visited the Gallery, we headed off to The Gladstone theatre to see our play, based on the life and times of Billy Bishop, from his small and troublesome start at the RMCC to his experiences as an officer during the First World War, first as a cavalryman, and then as a fighter pilot. Our first impression of the stage and props was that this would not be a play filled with lots of characters or action. The stage at the Gladstone is a small one, like the size of a small movie theatre. There was a wooded platform, and on it a piano, with a British flag draped over it, and a few other small props. There was also a small chair, some sandbags and a First World War helmet as well. When the show began, two actors emerged from behind the large black curtains surrounding the stage, one dressed in early turn-of-the-century dress, and the other in a World War One military uniform. They began by singing a song accompanied by piano and immediately captured the attention of the whole audience with their haunting piano music and simple lyrics.

“Billy Bishop Goes to War” is truly a remarkable play, written in 1978 by John Gray, in collaboration with Eric Peterson. What makes this play so fascinating is that there are only two actors on stage performing the entire play. In our case, actor Chris Ralph played Billy Bishop (old and young), along with several other characters as Bishop recounts his story, and James Caswell was the Narrator and Pianist. The story of Billy Bishop starts out with an aged Bishop telling the story of his days as a young officer in training at the RMCC, and he continues to tell his story throughout the First World War and how he became Billy Bishop, married and with two children.

And as if it wasn’t a fantastic day already at the National Art Gallery and seeing the play, we all got to meet Chris Ralph and James Caswell who performed the play for us. To be able to meet and chat with the actors who just performed a play as brilliant and as relevant to our experiences at the RMCC as future officers in the Canadian Forces was a great experience; it’s not every day one gets to meet with the actors of a play right after a performance, so that was the cherry on top of the cake for us. It was wonderful for us to be able to leave the RMC campus again and go to Ottawa on this trip, thanks to the generous funding from the RMC Foundation.

“Billy Bishop Goes to War” is an incredible play, displaying the seriousness of war with a touch of humour throughout. There were many instances of laughter, and also of great attention during the play, and I know I speak for all of us who saw the play on Tuesday, that if you ever get the chance to see this play, do it. You won’t regret it!