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The title states it's a story about hockey, but playwright/performer Jim Sands admits there's a lot more to Charlie: A Hockey Story than pucks and sticks and skates and slapshots.
There are also elements of morality, mythology and music, an exploration of the complex relationship between fathers and sons, and a discussion of the parallels that exist between our national sporting obsession and the characters, comedy and drama created by William Shakespeare.
"What I tell people is that it's a story about hockey, Shakespeare and forgiveness," says Sands, the Vancouver-based actor/storyteller/musician/songwriter who is bringing his one-man play to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival for the first time. "It starts out from a place of antagonism between myself and my father, where we live in different worlds and don't understand each other, and then as I come to understand more about where he was coming from, I eventually reach a point of forgiveness through the storytelling."
While it's true that Sands first performed Charlie: A Hockey Story at the Vancouver Fringe in 2011, it's also true that this is a play that literally took a lifetime to create.
Sands grew up in Calgary under the watchful eye of a father who was a typical hockey-obsessed Canadian male. Sands, however, was more interested in music and theatre, which caused no end of friction between parent and child.
"We kind of ended up at a crossroads, because we didn't have that much in common," he recalls. "And I knew a little bit of the story when I was growing up, but after my dad died about 20 years ago, I started looking into the story of my dad's older brother, who played in the NHL in the 1930s and '40s.
"And as I looked into my Uncle Charlie's hockey career, what it was about and what it meant to my father, I came to understand my father in a whole different way."
It would still be more than a decade, however, before Sands was inspired to turn his hockey-roots research into a theatrical piece.
"It was an amazing story, but after I gathered all this material, it kind of just sat in a box for 10 or 15 years," he explains. "And then in 2010, I was involved in a play at the Vancouver fringe, and as part of that, I went to one of the workshops on fringe touring... They talked about the ideal touring production -- things like doing a one-man show, using storytelling, minimal props and that sort of thing -- and I started thinking about what could be the content (of a show).
"And then, literally at four o'clock in the morning, it came to me. I opened my eyes and thought, 'I've got all this material about my Uncle Charlie and his amazing story,' and I knew that this was what I needed to do."
Sands debuted Charlie: A Hockey Story in Vancouver in 2011, and then took it on a fringe-tour road trip last summer with stops in London, Toronto, Hamilton, Edmonton and Vancouver. He wasn't selected in the Winnipeg fringe lottery in 2012, but was happy to take the show back on the road when his name was pulled in Winnipeg this year.
Through music and monologue, Sands recounts the story of Charlie Sands, a journeyman forward who played a dozen seasons in the uniforms of four of the NHL's storied original-six teams, toiling alongside -- or against -- some of the NHL's legendary figures, including King Clancy, Ace Bailey and Eddie Shore.
In transforming his uncle's story into a play, one of the things Sands came to realize is that hockey is, in many ways, the source of this country's most enduring mythology.
"One of the people I came across in my research is a director named Ken Hudson, who actually did Shakespeare's King Henry V on the ice in a hockey arena in Ontario, and he had players come on for the battle scenes," he says. "And one of the things he said was, 'In Canada, hockey is Shakespeare,' which I thought was really interesting."
Sands says he's confident that Charlie: A Hockey Story will find a receptive audience in Winnipeg.
"It tends to do well in places with a strong fringe and a really strong hockey culture," he offers. "It did really well in Edmonton (last year), and I'm hoping it'll do well in Winnipeg, too."
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