It’s chilly here – brisk but sunny. I’m dressed for Vancouver’s summer in shorts but luckily threw my fleece in the suitcase as I was racing out the door to the airport. Banff is so restorative. The rushing Bow River combined with creativity at every turn at The Banff Centre. Today there’s an energy in the dance studio of The Banff Centre. Singers warming up. Actors stretching. Composer John Estacio, librettist John Murrell, director Kelly Robinson and repetiteur Kinza Tyrrell have their heads together over the music that ends Act 1 of Lillian Alling as 12 singers, 5 actors and pianist Rhoda Dullea gather for the staging rehearsal.
The scene opens with Jimmy and Irene, parked in his truck on the side of the road:
JIMMY. They put her in jail? After all she’d been through?
IRENE. It was prison, not jail. Oakalla, near Vancouver.
JIMMY. For what?
IRENE. Vagrancy and an unlicensed firearm.
Irene looks past Jimmy – where a vast field at Oakalla Prison gradually appears: male and female prisoners at hard labour, harvesting, or cleaning up after harvest. Lillian is among them as armed guards patrol.
The opportunity to explore this large chorus scene with the opera program students is unique – wish you could hear all these glorious voices together!
PS. Did you know?
Any history of BC provincial detention centres must include Burnaby’s Oakalla Prison Farm, a full-service facility which opened on September 2, 1912. The first inmate was William Daley, sentenced on July 31, 1912 to serve a year of hard labour for stealing some fountain pens valued at over $10. By April 30, 1913, some 328 prisoners had passed through the jail’s doors. From 1919 until the abolition of the death penalty in 1959, 44 prisoners were executed by hanging on the Oakalla site….Thousands of prisoners passed through the doors of Oakalla – renamed Lower Mainland Regional Correctional Centre in 1970 – before it closed on June 30, 1991.
– from Vancouver Prisons by Stuart Derdeyn
~ Jennifer Lord, Special Projects Manager