Theatre CBS breathing life into Tom Dawe’s home-grown ghost stories

Those who delight in the spooky and paranormal will find much to sink their teeth into in Duckish: The Ghost and Fairy Stories of Tom Dawe. Jaqueline Cook is seen here rehearsing as Sarah. Submitted photo

By Chad Feehan / Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Throughout his long career as a nationally recognized storyteller, Tom Dawe has been collecting weird and wonderful tales of encounters with ghosts and fairies from friends, family, and acquaintances.
These “true weird” stories, originally compiled in the books An Old Man’s Winter Night and Spirited Away, have been adapted for the stage by playwright Susan Bonnell and Theatre CBS for Duckish: The Ghost and Fairy Stories of Tom Dawe.
Duckish, which runs at the Manuel’s River Centre from March 20-23, will be performed in a “theatre-in-the-round” setting, where the audience surrounds the performance, and is in turn enveloped by immersive stage design.
Bonnell regards Dawe as a treasure to CBS and a national treasure at large, endeavoring to honor him and his work through spooky tellings told in the flesh.
“Because they’re stories, and they’re told in that storytelling tradition, we wanted to perform this show in the round,” she said. “It’s a very interactive experience for the audience members.”
Bonnell likens the experience to sitting around a campfire as a child, listening to some nearby narrator riddle off spooky, atmospheric tales.
Some of the stories take place in CBS and may involve people and places that will be recognizable to folks living in the community.
In one story a doctor on a house call wrestles with claims of a visiting phantasm by his patient. In another, Dawe’s own grandmother is whisked away by the little people, the fairies of Newfoundland legend.
In all of these stories, Dawe’s written word is meant to be spoken, and Bonnell has full confidence in their adaptation to the stage.
“He has a gift for imagery that’s crystal clear. He describes things in such a way that your senses are all on fire,” she said. “The words themselves are the greatest tools that we have at our disposal.”
Dawe says most of the stories were told to him when he was a child, taking place in what he calls “the old dark world,” a time before street lights illuminated the world after sundown.
Avoiding any pretense of meaning and allegory in his tales, Dawe tells these stories for their own sake, for the feelings of mystery, wonder, and horror found therein.
Dawe thinks of a quote by Earnest Hemingway referencing The Old Man and the Sea any time he sits down to write.
“I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things,” Hemingway said.
Dawe’s own way of expressing this idea echoes Hemingway simply and succinctly.
“The story isn’t meant to mean, it’s meant to be,” he said.
Additional mood and atmosphere developed for Duckish comes in the form of set design by students at Queen Elizabeth Regional High School, and an original score by local musician Maureen Chafe.
Some small children will run about the stage, and some puppeteering will make an appearance as well.
“It’s an opportunity to see some CBS history, and certainly a celebration of one of our literary icons,” said Bonnell.
As for Dawe, he looks forward to the theatre-in-the-round format, and the audience engagement that will be found over the course of its 90-minute runtime.
“When you don’t have the explanation, there’s something terrifying there,” he said.

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