Some adults have an uncanny ability to tap into the child within. They're able to access memories and emotions that have been muffled or extinguished in most people by time and grown-up responsibilities.
Ron Jenkins and Ron Pederson are two such adults. Through Jenkins' writing and Pederson's acting, they bring to life James, a troubled and imaginative seven-year old boy who tells his story in the Atlantic Canadian premiere of the award-winning play Extinction Song for Eastern Front Theatre.
Cape Breton-born Jenkins has no trouble recalling the day, more than 10 years ago, when he first delved into the memories that sparked the play.
"I spent part of my childhood in Winnipeg, and there was this bridge, the Lockport Bridge, that we'd have to cross sometimes in this rickety old homemade Winnebago when we were going out of town. The bridge was huge. It scared the crap out of me. Anyway, we moved away from Winnipeg, and I didn't go back for 20 years, and when I did, I decided to go fishing, catfish fishing." Jenkins throws his arms wide open to show just how big the fish could be. "The whole way there I was telling my friend about this gigantic bridge and he was like, 'I'm not sure what you're talking about.' When we finally got to the Lockport Bridge, it wasn't something like the MacKay or the Macdonald. It was more like an overpass.
"I remember looking at that bridge and thinking, 'Where did that scared little seven-year-old go? Where did that guy go?'"
The result of that soul-searching is the story of a young boy who concocts an imaginary family of wolves in order to cope---or at least try to---with his alcoholic father. While partly autobiographical, Jenkins says he follows the "write what you know and make up the rest" rule.
"It sounds so grim when you say it's a play about alcoholism," says Jenkins. "But there's actually a lot of humour in it...I like to think it's a good story told from a perspective we don't always hear."
Jenkins, who met Pederson 16 years ago when the pair acted together in a play in Edmonton, wrote Extinction Song with the younger actor in mind. He says he just knew Pederson's voice would be right for it, and that he'd have fun doing it. He jokingly says his only fear was that Pederson might have become too old and weighed down with a beer belly in the 10 years it took to bring the play from page to stage.
He didn't need to worry. Thirty-one-year-old Pederson, a well-known Edmonton stage actor and a former castmember of MADtv, is packed with boyish energy. He says working with Jenkins and getting to play such an intelligent and winning seven-year-old has been a dream job. "Most actors are connected to a child's sense of play," he says. "And in Extinction Song, I get to play on stage. I get to play in a play. And the way Ron's written it, I find it very easy to get into."
Pederson thinks that the audience will appreciate the vivid way that James and his imaginary world are brought to life. He praises the poetry of Jenkins' language, and the playwright's ability to show the audience what's going on inside the head of a young child.
"I really think this play illuminates that whole 'out of the mouths of babes' idea. Children have wisdom, and they should be listened to."
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