The Ancestral Power of Father Bauer

Posted by Dorothy Lander

Ancestral Power Fr Bauer
Fr-Bauer-award-to-Ken-Kingston-2024pshopped

Once a month, John Graham-Pole and I showcase the publications of HARP The People’s Press at the Antigonish Farmer’s Market.  Ken Kingston, the news anchor at 98.9 xfm (CJFX), stopped by and we congratulated him on his recent well-deserved award from Theatre Antigonish, The Father Cyril Bauer Award.

Ken and I spent a few moments reflecting on the legacy of Father Bauer in our lives, which led me to an AHA moment. I realize that the Bauer Theatre at the centre of the StFX campus has been a touchstone for me ever since I arrived on campus almost 50 years ago.   How could that be? I am not an actor—I haven’t strutted the boards since the Christmas Concert at S. S. # 16 in southern Ontario when I was in Grade 8. Nor am I a playwright—or only when I use popular theatre as part of my adult education practice, in which participants and audience members become the true playwrights and performers. 

I was on the founding Board of Directors for Festival Antigonish in 1987 in my capacity as the manager of service operations and summer conferences at StFX.  It was in that capacity that I crossed paths with Father Bauer almost daily from 1975 to 1995 as he made his way to meals in the Priests’ Dining Room in Morrison Hall, right above my office. For several years, I and other female staff in the Residence Office  shared a washroom with the StFX priests. We had to check for black shoes under the cubicle doors before entering!!  When I became a faculty member in the Department of Adult Education in 1997, Fr. Bauer and I continued to have “Where are they now?” conversations in the courtyard.

It was in my management capacity and as a theatre patron that I came to forge a life friendship with Jeannie MacKay (Smith). Jeannie performed in lead roles for Theatre Antigonish and served as the Director from 1977 to 1979 succeeding James Colbeck and preceding Addy Doucette. I learned from Jeannie that Fr. Bauer had been the director of theatre at StFX before the Bauer Theatre— formerly the gymnasium– became the home for Theatre Antigonish.  Fr. Bauer continued to take a lively interest in the theatre and was a mediator along with the Sisters of St. Martha in the 1978 uproar over Jeannie’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the University Auditorium.  The Catholic governance right up to the Board of Governors banned the performance in the Auditorium, considered sacrilege, disturbing daily mass held right above in the University Chapel.  Perhaps some of them had witnessed the rehearsals in which choreographer Fiona Griffiths created the seductive dance moves for the Tormenter and Mary Magdalene with King Herod and Jesus. Father Bauer’s and others’ efforts to reverse the ban were in vain so with the help of the Marthas, Jesus Christ Superstar was resurrected in the Parish Centre. A makeshift theatre with a one-time thrust stage was built.  A young Andrew Murray, now town councilor, was credited with masks and headdresses for this production, and some forty-four years later, Andrew brought his invention of the “social distancing hug” to John’s 80th birthday party cum climate rally in Chisholm Park in February 2022.  Also, some 40 years on from when Bob Murray played King Herod in the 1978 production of Jesus Christ Superstar, John sang with Bob in the Men’s Choir of St. James United Church.  When I told Jeannie I was writing this blog, she remembered that every one of the priests who were incensed came to the performance and told her “It wasn’t that bad!” I also learned from Jeannie that Fiona was not only choreographer and dancer but an emergency room nurse—a practitioner of the healing arts before Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!) and HARP (H-ealing A-rts R-econciling P-eoples).  In 1978, Fiona was an advocate for seat belts BEFORE mandatory seat belts became law in Nova Scotia in 1985. She convinced Jeannie!

John performed in Theatre Antigonish productions directed by Addy Doucette and Ed Thomasen and crossed paths with Ken Kingston, who was a regular performer.   When I initiated the idea of a truth and reconciliation pilgrimage to Town Point on Antigonish Harbour, the site of Antigonish’s first European settlers – British Loyalists—in 1784, it was John who recruited Ken as the artistic director for the popular theatre production of 1784: (Un)Settling Antigonish. The cast of performers drawn from the Nations they represented—Mi’kmaw, Acadian, African, Irish, Scottish, English—reworked my bare bones script at each rehearsal and right up and through the five performances in the summer of 2015.  I recruited Bill Fraser to play Lord Dalhousie as the first governor of Nova Scotia to visit Antigonish in 1817, remembering that Bill played Peter in Jesus Christ Superstar.  Many enduring cross-cultural friendships were formed.  Local filmmaker Denise Davies subsequently created a documentary film of our pilgrimage that can be streamed online. https://tryhealingarts.ca/product/1784-unsettling-antigonish-speaking-truth-to-history-dvd/

 

And then in December 2018, we launched our healing arts publishing house, HARP The People’s Press (www.tryhealingarts.ca).  Our first publication was a photo history of the Antigonish Movement—The People’s Photo Album—in which the Bauer Theatre and Theatre Antigonish families are featured (pp. 151-153): Addy and Buddy Doucette, Michael Steinitz, Majd Zhouri, the Murray family (Bob, Mavis, Ross and Andrew), Lynn O’Donnell, Allene Doucet, Archie MacLean and…and.  Jeannie’s handwritten letter tells of her experience at that time.  And Dr. Hubert Spekkens, English professor, who was my go-to person for all things technical related to conferences and special events, coordinated the sound and light technology in the early days of Theatre Antigonish. (Dr. Spekkens 1979 outside the Bauer Theatre with his only mode of transportation)

Fast Forward to 2024 and the ruling of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture awarding a large-scale commercial oyster fishery (23000 cages, 90 acres) in the shallow waters of the estuary at Town Point, Antigonish Harbour, encroaching on the critical habitat of the piping plover. This was the very site of our 2015 truth and reconciliation pilgrimage, where in a collective rag tree ceremony, we acknowledged the centuries-old sacred burial grounds of the Mi’kmaw and the 1783 license assigning the hunting and fishing rights of the “Antigonish Indians” in Antigonish Harbour In perpetuity.  In the hearings of the Aquaculture Review Board in June and September 2023, the voices for Mi’kmaw rights were silenced.  Their affidavits demanding an archaeological, forensic assessment of the “submerged archaeological artifacts” and protection of the endangered piping plover were not part of the hearings.  The developers dismissed the license of 1783 as pre-Confederation, hence not valid.  Shades of the Doctrine of Discovery! 

My response to this derailing of our truth and reconciliation process?   In the spirit of “we are all treaty people,” I wrote the first three episodes of HARP’s first Podcast Theatre entitled Estuary and Piping Plover Find Their Voice.  John assumed the persona of Estuary (“Estu”) and I became Piping Plover (“Plove”) to give voice to their distress and violation of their rights.  https://tryhealingarts.ca/harp-podcast/

Could it be that at the age of 77, I am finding my inner actor and my inner playwright? 

Thank you, Father Bauer.

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