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Gateway’s Sink or Swim hopes to sink into our hearts

Lorraine Graves   Nov-14-2017

Beverly Elliott’s Cabaret-style play, Sink or Swim, runs Nov. 16 to 25 at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre.

Photo courtesy Gateway Theatre and Mere Players Theatre Company


Beverley Elliott is an integral part of our community arts scene, from her one-woman show at Gateway Theatre starting Friday Nov. 17 to her role as Granny in Once Upon a Time to her work as Barn Dance Bev at the Richmond Country Farms’ Pumpkin Patch every October.

In her upcoming show, Sink or Swim, the second offering in this year’s Gateway season, Elliott tells with word and song of her days as a five- and six-year old when she left her home with her mom on the farm to go, all day, to a one-room school house with “big Grade 8 bullies.” Or as, Elliot describes it, Little House on the Prairie meets Lord of the Flies.

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“It’s not a story of abuse and all that. It’s more a story of realization, of realizing that you have to have a tough skin, coming fresh out of the house at five.”

And there’s lots of humour too.

InSink or Swim, Elliott looks back at her Grade 1 self and asks, “Why did I eat the fish food?” The play alternates between the shock of life in the big world of a one-room school house, and the wonder-filled humour of a child’s adaptation to the life outside her sheltered home life.

“My show is my story. Everybody has a story. Everybody had a coming of age, where you switch from one form of childhood to another. In my case, that happens to be between ages of five and six years old.”

A story well-told, true to place, has universal appeal. While we may not have grown up on a farm in rural Ontario, we’ve all had to deal with bullies. We’ve all had chances to have our eyes opened to the promise of the greater world outside our comfort zone.

Elliott describes it as a time of, “Crystal clear memory; the smells and sounds and moments of this time between five and six years old.” Yet, Elliot saysSink or Swimis a play for adults. “I don’t play five years old. I just tell it from a place of wonder.”

Speaking of the origins ofSink or Swim, Elliott says, “I was in a writing group of women, Wet Ink Collective. They’re theatre actresses from the community. Women write a small percentage of plays. There are lot of stories written by men. So we started this writing group to encourage women to write their stories, as a place to come and write. I did workshops with them for about five years, writing stories and hearing stories. I don’t write a play in the traditional way am a storyteller.”

Sometimes, often times, women says they are more hindered by a lack of confidence than a lack of skill. Even someone as accomplished and capable at her craft as Elliott, needed encouragement to take her play further.

“I just went and wrote these stories and read them aloud to the women. Seeing the laughter hearing the tears and so on, gave me the encouragement and the permission to go forward,” she says.

“I got up at The Flame, a storytelling event, and told the story. it’s heart-felt. It has a real twist at the end. People teared up because, as they said, ‘I didn’t see that one coming.”

Now, with a previous work, didn’t see that coming, under her belt, says Elliott, “This is my second time that Gateway is hosting my original work of stories and songs. I am so thrilled, honoured, and grateful to Gateway.”

Bill Costin, as musical director ofSink or Swim, co-wrote some of the song and plays the piano for this cabaret-style offering of 75 minutes.

“It is a coming of age of young child in a rural community which taps into children’s stories for adults,” says Elliott

“A magical thing about theatre is it makes us one.”

Sink or Swimruns Nov 16 – 25 at Gateway Theatre. For tickets or information cut and paste: gatewaytheatre.com/sinkorswim


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