To view pictures set to sounds of The Two Bills, click here
Feb. 19, 2013
By Jason Misner
COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, HDSB STAFF
With tears in her eyes, Vi Connolly watched a dozen Grade 10 drama students from T.A. Blakelock High School perform a moving play partly documenting her and her husband Bill’s experience of enlisting in World War II.
Drama students performed Jan. 23 The Two Bills, a docudrama they wrote and directed about the lives of Bill Connolly and Bill Stewart, who were Canadian soldiers serving aboard the HMCS Athabaskan during the Battle of the Atlantic. The production depicted how the two Bills were captured as POWs after their ship was struck and sank during battle. Despite their hardships, both men promised to return home to their sweethearts. Naval dignitaries also attended to show support.
With Connolly in the audience, the students said they were nervous but proud to be able to tell her story and help others learn more about the emotional toll of war. Connolly said the students had nothing to worry about as they did a wonderful job, noting her late husband would have been so proud.
“I had a good cry in my seat,” she said, adding she approved of the play’s plot immediately when she was approached about it awhile back. “It was very real. These kids did the greatest job without knowing Bill. I enjoyed the students more than anything. Bill would have enjoyed this thoroughly and he would’ve wanted to meet every one of these children.”
Students spent only a few weeks researching the lives of the two Bills, learning historical accounts of battle and connecting with former U.K. history teacher and current Blakelock educational assistant Tom Dykes, who spoke to the families.
Dramatic arts teacher Sarah Robert was impressed by what her students had accomplished in a short period of time.
“Every technical and artistic element was created and produced by these students,” she said. “They tackled many aspects of the story – a funeral for the men lost at sea, wartime cinemas/dance halls right before men had left, the vital role the postal service played in communications, conditions on the boat, manipulation in a POW camp, women in the workforce, statistical information about the cost of WWII, and lastly the emotions of a young couple being reunited.”
Grade 10 dramatic arts students are to create a docudrama as their final performance task, Robert explained. It must be 30 minutes long, it needs to be based on historical fact, have a choreographed dance and must use five or six different dramatic techniques like mime.
“They put in so much extra time to rehearse – even working together on weekends at each others houses – in the short amount of time they were given to produce what I believe was amazing.”
Student Michelle Fernandes, who played Vi, said the play was a “great experience” and strengthened her acting skills.
“I think it went really well,” she said. “It was really emotional to know this actually happened to somebody. I tried my best to bring my emotions out. I think we represented it in a good way.”
Student Will Hutchison, 15, who played Bill Connolly, said the play was thrilling to perform.
“This is a real-life story and you feel more pressure to capture the character,” he explained. “It was really amazing to get the information and to be able to portray it in art form. It was a feeling like I’ve never really had before. I feel honoured to be able to do this.”
The mere thought of fighting in war is unthinkable, Hutchison says.
“This is what people, only a couple of years older than me, had to deal with in the Second World War. I’m lucky to live in this time and not have to deal with those pressures.”
In addition to becoming a moving story for family members to watch, former teacher Dykes will send a video copy of The Two Bills play to the Juno Beach Museum exhibit and will also include it in a Battle of the Atlantic presentation he will deliver in London, England this spring.