Let it be said that Erin Brandenburg has a penchant for historical slumming in a big, big way. And if anyone feels that the past should be left in a place of distant rest, the emotion provoking storyteller is likely to sit them down for a tactful tongue lashing.
So when the foundation for an avant-garde theatre event relying on a six piece band, radio transmissions, and digital imagery began to take shape exploring time, space and collected memories, she was certain that her narrative time machine had successfully interfaced with days of old.
The end result is Boblo , a multi-media eulogy to South Western Ontario’s once cherished Boblo Island Amusement Park. Make no mistake—a spiritual retreat like this goes beyond rides and cotton candy.
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Not many of us living East of the Detroit River have heard of this island getaway for fun enthusiasts. Why was this such a destination of choice as suggested in your show?
Boblo was an amusement park from 1898 – 1993 located directly across from Amherstburg, Ontario. Because it was mostly visited by people from the greater Detroit area, most people thought it was American.
You had to take a ferry to get there. This was a huge part of the experience. Large sized boats would bring people down the river to the island park and keep them entertained with orchestras and dance floors on the boat. There was also a dance hall built in 1910 that, at the time, was the second largest in North America.
The park’s growth followed much of the growth of Detroit. It was a place everyone could afford to go to, and the automotive companies often held their annual picnics on the island. It was also a huge employer for young people in the area – basically a teenage paradise.
When it closed down it left a big hole in the summer experience for people in the Windsor/Detroit area. It was a place for everybody.
At its peak, Boblo Amusement Park was said to be a more family friendly version of Coney Island. I’m guessing there are still a lot of ghostly memories still lingering there.
One third of the island is a private community with million dollar homes, condos and a marina.
The other two third of the island still house old buildings of the amusement park. The rides are all gone but the buildings are still there, rusting and crumbling with broken windows and all overgrown by nature.
What triggered this artisitic salute that you’ve created for audiences?
It was a visit back to the island a few years ago, to see what had become of it. Returning there was like going into a memory and also into ruins.
The largest buildings left are the dancehall and the sky tower. These were a strong inspiration for the piece. Once we started to do some research into the history of the island we discovered a fascinating past and this is what we wanted to share with people.
Those that have seen the show are moved by many of the visceral moments. What elements are you drawn to the most?
The scene in the dancehall – we recreate a vaudeville style band and dancing.
The other is a recreation of a roller coaster ride in the dark and the terror and delight that those kind of experiences can bring.
Thematically, Boblo seems to deal with themes of cerebral souvenirs if you will. But the offering reverberates on a deeper level, yes?
We’re definitely dealing with memory. What do we hold on to? What do we let go? Do we choose what we remember?
Also it examines the stories we tell ourselves and how we create meaning out of the details. This comes out in the form of radio transmissions of old news reports, weather reports, bits of text and voices all overlapping and haunting the characters.
You had said some of your fondest memories growing up was visiting the amusement park with your Aunt who had worked there—eating nachos smothered with cheese and riding the log flume. What do you want audiences to take away from this experience?
I think everyone has a place like Boblo in their past that was a place of adventure and fun. We want to tap into that memory, that nostalgia and also that feeling of loss.
And some thoughts about our place in the universe with a supply of amazing music.
There’s no shortage of amusement parks providing thrills and chills. Would it be safe to say the romance of an era has disappeared?
These days, you go to amusement parks and it is all about the biggest ride, the fastest and farthest drop.
Boblo was a place that you could go with your family or on a date. You could go with your grandparents and they would have a good time.
And because there was that history there – even the older generations felt like it was their place. And there was something about taking the boat – getting away from it all, even for a little while that was really special.
BOBLO * Nov. 22 – Dec.2, 2012 * The Great Hall Black Box 1087 Queen St. W., Toronto, ON * Tickets $25.00 416-538-0988