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Billy Bishop Goes to War is more about people than war

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Classic Canadian play “Billy Bishop Goes to War” is more than just a play about war— it’s  a play about people.
Artistic Director Jeremy Mason is excited to direct this John Gray and Eric Peterson penned one man show about First World War Canadian Flying Ace Billy Bishop, Sept. 27-Oct. 6 at the Sterndale Bennett Theatre.Braden Griffiths plays Billy Bishop in Billy Bishop Goes to War, Sept, 27-Oct. 6 Photo by Richard Amery

It is more than just a war story though according to Calgary actor Braden Griffiths.
“When you picture a war play, you picture Patton in front of the flag saying rah, rah, rah war. People are going to die, but there will be glory,” Griffiths observed.

“There is some of that, but what you have here is a more human story — a more human rendition of war,” he continued.
“It’s one of those old chestnuts of Canadian theatre,” he said adding he wasn’t that familiar with the play, or of the legend of Billy Bishop other than hearing about them both in school.

However, once he jumped into rehearsals, he found the character quickly spoke to him.
“He’s very vibrant. At the very beginning of the play he’s a rascal, he almost doesn’t fit in. He gets into trouble, he gets drunk and his superiors don’t appreciate it, but he finds his place in the war as a fighter pilot,” he described.
 Griffiths hasn’t been part of a New West Theatre production before, but is very familiar with the company as he knows director Jeremy Mason very well and is also married to Allison Lynch, who is a big part of New West’s summer productions, so he is familiar with the theatre company.

He appears with permission of the Canadian Actors' Equity Association.

“ I’m just excited to share this story with people who don’t know it. It has been my room mate for close to two months,” he said.
 Lethbridge classical pianist Jesse Plessis is excited about being dragged out of his comfort zone by director Jeremy Mason. He plays the background music for Bishop and shares a few lines with him.

“John Gray was a great composer and I think he wrote most of the lines too,” Plessis said comparing the music to a movie score, which doesn’t necessarily mean it is period music for  the First World War era.
“It’s fairly classical based,” he described.

He is both excited and nervous about having lines as well as playing the music.

“I’m used to getting up and playing Mozart and Brahms on the piano and then leaving, but I actually have a few lines with Billy. I’ve never acted before so Jeremy has really pulled me out of my little shell,” he said.

“ It’s exciting but I’m also a little nervous,” he said.

“ This is one of my favourite plays,” Mason enthused adding New West Theatre wanted a particularly strong season in which to premiere the play.
“It made sense. I wanted to direct one of my favourite plays in my first year as artistic director,” Mason said.

 They have been rehearsing in a vacant store in the Lethbridge Centre Mall due to booking issues.
The cast and crew have worked together very well, though they have only been rehearsing for about at a week at the time of the interview.
“I’m very fortunate,” he said.

“This play was created at a time where there really wasn’t a lot of Canadian plays being written. Instead most plays were being produced were by British or American playwrights,” he observed.
“There is limited seating. I expect this show to sell out, so if people are interested they should get tickets sooner rather than later he said.
 The question and answer sessions at the play will not only feature cast , crew and director , but  veterans as well who will be able to answer any questions the audience has about war.
 Lethbridge Cadets will be helping as ushers.

Billy Bishop Goes to War runs Sept. 27-Oct.6 in the Sterndale Bennett Theatre. Tickets cost $15 in advance, $17 for adults for the 1p.m. matinees,  Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 ($15 for seniors) and $20 for adults for the 8 p.m. evening performances ($18 for seniors).

A version of this story appears in the Sept. 26, 2012 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor

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