Bruce Eriksen is back in town. Yes, the legendary activist who turned the Downtown Eastside upside-down and gave ‘em hell on Vancouver City Council will soon be singing and dancing across a Downtown Eastside stage in a new original drama called Bruce – The Musical.
An original two-act musical drama, Bruce – The Musical, recreates key events in the life of the late founder of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA), and the individual most responsible for transforming the image of Vancouver's lowest-income neighbourhood from Skid Road to residential community. It is a story of tragedy and triumphs, told with humour, action, human drama and song.
The play is a blend of historical characters (Eriksen, Harry Rankin, Libby Davies and Jean Swanson) and representative characters (older single men and working people trying to survive and maintain their dignity, Chinese elders in a strange new land, politicians grappling with difficult issues - and you can expect a couple SRO hotel cockroaches too).
The play chronicles events in the period 1973-76, when Eriksen overcame his addiction to alcohol, went on to become an Ironworker on the Knight Street Bridge project and then fought successfully to make the beer parlors and hotels of the Downtown Eastside safer for the old loggers and other retired resource workers who lived there. Later, he won a seat as a city council member, where he was a constant “headache” to the centre-to-right NPA dinosaurs.
Playwright Bob Sarti is a long-time (now retired) Vancouver Sun reporter who covered many of the events depicted in the play. For more than 20 years, Sarti lived and volunteered in the Downtown Eastside. The music has been composed by BC Entertainment Hall of Famer Bill Sample and also Earle Peach, two established musician-composers with deep roots in the community.
The play features a professional and semi-professional cast of nine, directed by Jay Hamburger, artistic director of Theatre In the Raw, a professional company which has a long history of commitment and work within the eastside of Vancouver and to social justice issues – “Giving Exposure to Voices Seldom Heard” since 1994.
Bruce – The Musical will run for ten performances from Nov. 6 - 16, 2008, at the Russian Hall, 600 Campbell Ave in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood. Community members will be admitted at low or no cost. Preview Night Pay-What-You-Can will be on Wednesday, November 5 and a 2-for-1 Matinee November 9, 2008.
Bruce Eriksen passed away nearly ten years ago, and many of the people he worked with are gone, too. Accounts of those early struggles are not always accessible to the new generation of community-minded residents. Unfortunately, the gains of that era are now being eroded under pressure of the growing illicit drug market and by the trend to gentrification.
Bruce – The Musical is an initiative to reclaim the history of the Downtown Eastside, to equip current residents with an understanding of how their community came to be what it is, and to reacquaint them with some of the strategies for positive change that have succeeded in the past in community-building. Bruce often spoke for those that found it hard to speak for themselves; an inspiration for many.
For more information on Bruce – The Musical, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. - www.theatreintheraw.ca.