A young man born and raised in Castlegar is making his mark on the world.
Not only did Casey Gray write the script for this year’s Gold Fever Follies production in Rossland, he also helped write the music and lyrics, is acting as stage manager for the production and is starring in the play. All of that is on top of his academic achievements. This spring Gray graduated from Simon Fraser University (SFU) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and archaeology, and has been accepted to a master’s program at Carlton University in Ottawa for the fall.
This is Gray’s fourth year with the Gold Fever Follies. He first performed with the group in 2011 as a high school student. “I was in the same position that our high school student Marco Santano is this year, and it was just very exciting to be a part of the cast that year,” says Gray. He performed with the Follies again in 2012 and 2013, this time as a full-salaried actor, and then took two years off while he completed his studies at SFU. Lisa Henderson asked him to audition again this year after he approached her about the possibility of writing the show. “When I first had the idea to wrote the show, I hadn’t really thought about coming back to do the show as well, I just sort of thought it would be a fun creative project to do and then Lisa Henderson asked me to audition for the show as well,” Gray says.
He wound up playing the part of Lockhart, a misunderstood undertaker. Gray says he auditioned with the character in mind, and even thought about playing him while he was working on the script. “I think when I was writing the show, I just found him so funny and he’s just sort of this misunderstood guy,” says Gray.
The play Gray wrote, Love and Business, is based on the race to open the first bank in Rossland, and Gray had pitched the script before he knew the play would be performed in Rossland’s first bank building. “At that time, I didn’t even know that the Miners’ Union Hall was even under renovation, so it wasn’t until later that we discovered that we could be using [the old Bank of Montreal] building to do the show in, and that was even more exciting that the show could take place in the building that it’s actually talking about,” says Gray.
The play is also based on A Tale of Two Cities, though that was partly by accident. “I wrote the initial joke about ‘Oh this is A Tale of Two Cities’ and [Ulysses] says ‘You haven’t read much.’ That was just sort of a joke because I haven’t read it, and I thought I would make this funny comparison between the British and the French,” explains Gray. “Then when we were sort of half way through our rehearsal process, we realized that our ending wasn’t feeling quite right and the director RJ [Peters] asked me to write a couple of pages at the end. So I was thinking ‘How do I tie in this whole story back to the beginning?’ I thought about that joke that I made, and I said ‘I should look up the plot to A Tale of Two Cities.’” It turned out that there were a number of similarities between the main character in the novel and Chandler from the play, so Gray rewrote the ending based on the book.
As an experienced Folly, Gray knew that the show attracts principally tourists and children, and specifically wanted to make sure that the show would appeal to young girls. “We always have a dedicated group of local kids who do the show almost every day, and especially young girls,” says Gray. “I really wanted to write a piece that was going be more along the feminist lines, but just something that’s inspiring for the girls to see, ‘Yeah, women in Rossland were doing really cool things too, not just the men,’ because that’s something that’s missing in the history books is we don’t know about the women of Rossland.” The play not only has a number of strong female characters, but also alludes to historical Rossland hotel owner Mrs. Allan. Willa, the play’s lead female protagonist, is also a hotel owner. “It’s hard to say just form the records, but I kind of get the impression that most of the hotels in Rossland were run by women,” says Gray. Having grown up in Castlegar, Gray also wrote in a Doukhobor character, Crookshankov, played by Santano.
Each night at the end of the show, Gray acknowledges the stories that took place in Rossland before it was a town or a mining interest. “I’m still learning every day how I as a third generation Canadian need to be thinking about things like Indigenous land rights, things like that,” says Gray. “One of the reasons why it was important for me to mention that on opening night, and I’ve been doing it after every show, is because I hadn’t heard anything like that said in this area when I was growing up. I discovered when I went to the west coast for four years that it’s quite common place there to acknowledge the Indigenous land that you’re on before any performance.”
Come fall, Gray will be starting his master’s degree in Canadian and Indigenous heritage conservation at Carlton, and he’s interested in exploring innovative ways of incorporating performance studies with social science research, a connection he first made by performing with the Gold Fever Follies.
“I’m just so thankful to the Gold Fever Folly Society, as I said on opening night, for giving me this chance,” says Gray. “It was exciting for me to be able to bring some of the sort of issues that I’ve learned in the academic world to the Kootenays and to put it in a performance perspective.”
This piece will appear in print in the July 21 edition of the West Kootenay Advertiser.