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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
To most people, it would have been just another summer job but to Adam Cooke, the time he spent working at a tourist bureau when he was 19 was nothing less than a cultural coming-of-age.
Cooke spent the summer of 1992 working at a small tourist information centre in St. Peter’s, near the canal. He had been a member of several local bands and was working towards a degree in journalism. The job was a welcome way to fund his upcoming studies but it would eventually mean much more than that.
“I really wasn’t prepared for it,” Cooke said Monday in a phone interview from Port Hawkesbury. “It helped me grow as a person.”
Cooke learned the value of seeing his home through other people’s eyes and to appreciate everything about the area, including the musicians and artists who come from it. Over the years, after achieving his degrees, working in media and performing as a musician throughout Nova Scotia, Cooke had thought about writing a book about his experience but over time decided to write a play instead.
“One Hundred Thousand Welcomes” is the result - not only a recounting of his teenaged experiences but also a sampling of the Cape Breton songbook, featuring well-known songs from John Allan Cameron, Rita MacNeil, The Rankin Family, Leon Dubinsky, Cyril MacPhee and Richmond County’s Hank Middleton as well as mainlanders Stan Rogers, Julie Murphy and Yvette d’Entremont.
“Working that summer helped build up my music appreciation and expand my own catalogue of music and not just because we always had different types of Cape Breton music in the background (at the tourist bureau) but just because of some of the individuals and personalities that helped mentor me and feed my own appreciation of Cape Breton traditional music and the singers, songwriters and composers that we had,” says Cooke. “A lot of those mentors are honoured and celebrated in this play as well too.”
“One Hundred Thousand Welcomes” is the debut production of the five-month old Strait Area Theatre Society.
“We did not have live theatre in Port Hawkesbury for about seven to eight years,” says Cooke. “The catalyst for this new group starting was a production that I was involved in that was centred in Antigonish - it was called Music of the Night Antigonish Community Theatre and they were doing a run of “Hairspray.” I was one of the leads in that show and we brought it to SAERC. It was the first time that group had ventured outside Antigonish for a show and it came within a few seats of being selling out and it lit a fire under people. I got home that evening, turned on the computer and my Facebook feed had blown up. People were coming to me and saying we could do a show too.”
And so they did. The enthusiasm led to the forming of the society, which has gone on to produce Cooke’s play. “One Hundred Thousand Welcomes” will take the stage Saturday and Monday at the SAERC Auditorium and Sunday at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre’s Shannon Studio. All showtimes are at 2 p.m. and all performances are family-friendly. The Celtic Colours International Festival has made “One Hundred Thousand Welcomes” a part of its official community events lineup. Tickets cost $10 each and are available through the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre box office. Call 902-625-2591 or order online at tickets.phcivic.com.
While phone calls from across North America and even Scotland asking about “One Hundred Thousand Welcomes,” the theatre society is already planning more productions and shows for the future.
“We are planning to be here for the long haul,” says Cooke. “We have a follow-up event scheduled in December. We’re going to do a sing-a-long “Sound of Music” event - we got the license to do it, we’re encouraging people to come and raise their voices. We’re also planning followup shows, dinner theatres, we want to have smaller one-night events, improv nights, poetry slams, jam sessions … we’re looking at having workshops on theatre, writing, acting …we want this to be a group that is active year round and active outside of the traditional framework of staging a production and all the rehearsal that goes into it.
“We want this to be a group for everybody.”