Caravan Farm Theatre’s Courtenay Dobbie

Caravan Farm Theatre’s Courtenay Dobbie

Hands up for Caravan Farm’s Our Town

The outdoor theatre is saddling up for its summer production with a Bill Miner-inspired fundraiser.

Before Miley Cyrus put her “hands up” as a call to party in the U.S.A., a certain American  outlaw, with a B.C. connection, was using the phrase for a whole different reason.

Notorious stagecoach and train robber Ezra Allen Miner, better known as “Bill”, is credited with coining the phrase “hands up!” before robbing his victims.

Said to have committed the first Canadian train robbery near Mission, Miner was known to frequent these parts. On May 8, 1906, he and his gang of bandits executed their second robbery of a Canadian Pacific Railway train, this time near Kamloops. They escaped on horseback, and foot, before they were caught by the Royal North West Mounted Police near Douglas Lake.

Miner was sentenced to 25 years in the New Westminster Penitentiary, but in 1907, he escaped and fled back to the U.S., where he continued to rob banks and trains until his death in 1911.

Although his profession may not have been honourable, Miner was known for his polite and gentlemanly manner and, according to records, when he was arrested, hundreds of supporters protested, refusing to believe the popular old gent could possibly commit such a crime.

Today, Miner’s face is emblazoned on the cookshack at Caravan Farm Theatre in Spallumcheen, which is operated by the non-profit Bill Miner Society for Cultural Advancement.

“He’s sort of the patron saint of Caravan and his outlaw spirit embodies the spirit of this place,” said Caravan’s artistic director Courtenay Dobbie.

So it’s apt that Caravan has named its new fundraiser, Hands Up!, taking place at the farm June 18, as a tip of the hat to Miner and a way to raise some funds for the farm’s ambitious summer production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.

“We’ve been looking for a fundraiser event for a while and because our summer show has such a large cast, we need extra help from the community,” said Dobbie, adding there will be more than 30 people – both professional actors and community members – in the production.

“We really wanted to attach a fundraiser to the needed community support. We employ around 200 artists a year and these are paid roles. This time around, we are really going to rely on the community to give us that extra boost to get the show up and running.”

Opening at the farm July 21, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town premiered in Princeton, N.J. in 1938, and has been described as one of the best plays ever written.

“The play is still performed, on average, every night somewhere around the world,” said Dobbie, adding it is currently being produced at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Described as “the life of a village against the life of the stars,” by Wilder himself, Our Town is set from 1901 to 1913 in the fictional community of Grover’s Corners. It follows two young people, Emily and George, as they grow up together and eventually fall in love and get married.

“It’s a microcosm of life in a community and has many layers,” said Dobbie. “It’s about valuing time on Earth and spending time with family and friends.”

To promote that feeling of community, Caravan’s Hands Up! fundraiser will feature wine, cider and beer tastings, a silent auction, specially prepared burgers made by Caravan’s own cookshack chef Jason Thomas, culminating in a big barn dance in the farm’s open-air timber-frame venue.

“It’s family-friendly and a big Caravan-like fest showing what we do for the artistic community in this region,” said Dobbie.

Three local music acts will perform, including Vernon’s own calypso-roots-reggae band Chipko Jones, acoustic folk-roots-blues duo Foak Tree, featuring Armstrong’s own Gaz Jordan and Harry Morgan, as well as The Porchpickers, with local coffee house regulars Rory White, Ellie Young and Kevan Huffman.

Wineries participating include La Vina, Edge of the Earth, Perseus and Larch Hills, while local micro-breweries Crannog Ales and Tin Whistle Brewing will serve up their finest brews. There will also be samples from Vernon’s The BX Press Cidery and Honeymoon Meadery.

Visitors can indulge their sweet tooth with some of Enderby’s Healthy Chocolate Company Rock Chocolate while cheese will be supplied by Village Cheese and Happy Days Dairy.

Gates to Hands Up! at Caravan Farm Theatre, 4886 Salmon River Rd. northwest of Armstrong, open at 6:30 p.m. June 18. Advance tickets are $25/adults and $10/children 12 and under (at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, ticketseller.ca) or $30/adult, $15/children 12 and under at the gate. Admission includes a burger and a Crannog beer or non-alcoholic beverage.