Loss and heartache in a faraway land. Sacrilege. The kindness of strangers. A pawn shop, police and reconciliation. Fringe Festival performer Ryan Wells from Texas has the makings of a show after what happened to him in Winnipeg.
A day after the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival opened, the storytelling musician had his guitar swiped late Thursday afternoon from the altar of the church venue where he's performing.
"I'd literally just finished my show, said goodbye to the audience, put my guitar down and went back to the control booth for 30 seconds. When I came back out, it was gone," he said Friday.
At first, he wasn't sure that it had been stolen. "I'm notorious for misplacing things in ridiculous places," the 34-year-old admitted.
"I looked around trying to find it." The Fringe performer whose show was up next helped him look for the guitar. Festival volunteers at the door to Knox United Church where Wells performs his one-man show, The 500 List, said they hadn't seen anyone leave with a guitar. When the downtown church's security guard heard the guitar was missing, he sprang into action, said Wells. "He took a running lap around the building." He didn't see anyone with the guitar.
In a strange but-not-strange-for-the-Fringe twist, the stolen guitar was located in Winnipeg by a Fringe performer who was back home in Los Angeles after being turned away at the Canadian border. Patrick Hercamp, whose shows were covered by other performers at the festival, got on the phone from his home in La La Land and called Winnipeg pawn shops looking for Wells' guitar.
"Ironically, (Hewrcamp's) show's called Cursed — about how his family's cursed, then he winds up not being able to come to Canada." Then, after Wells and some other Fringe festival friends of Hercamp decided to help him out by covering his show, Cursed, the total they raised was a devilish amount to anyone squeamish about Satanic symbols.
"His sales were $666 after we said 'We're going to help him out' and my guitar got stolen off the altar of a church!" Wells laughed. Hercamp wasn't cursed when it came to helping find Wells' guitar, though.
"While I was panicking, Patrick from LA meticulously called every pawn shop and described my guitar to them," he said. "He found it at AMC Pawn on Sargent Avenue. "They said this kind of thing happened a lot, and that they have a system in place for this and work with the police on it." After spending many anxious hours trying to get his guitar back in time for Friday evening's performance — including friends "who lit up Twitter" with messages about it to Fringe goers and police — and an hour on hold with police while they tried to find someone who could help him — his guitar was returned that afternoon by Winnipeg police major crimes Det. Geoff Haluk.
"It was great to see the way people rallied around him to help get his guitar back," said Winnipeg police communications co-ordinator James Ham. The pawn shop did the right thing and had reported the guitar, he said. Investigators were looking into it when Wells was trying to get his guitar back. "...The tweets helped us connect the dots and get it back to its rightful owner," said Ham.
"That was an ordeal," said Wells, who was grateful for the police who were trying to help him get it back. "The officers who helped me out were amazing," he said. His guitar, which isn't insured, is what he depends on for his livelihood, Wells said.
"Having to suddenly replace a thousand-dollar guitar is not in cards for me," he said. "Life in America is not cheap," said the resident of Houston who's performed at Winnipeg's Fringe fest for nearly a decade.
The theft of his guitar Thursday hasn't soured him on the city.
"Whoever stole the guitar, I don't really have malice toward them," Wells said on his way back to the scene of the crime for Friday night's performance. "I've heard a little bit about the meth crisis and addiction. It's a disease. I don't fault someone for trying to find a way to make it through the day." He's heartened by all the support he received.
"The Fringe community is so wonderful — within 10 minutes, I was offered six guitars (to borrow)... Every single person I talked to rallied behind me and helped me to get the guitar back," said Wells.
"I love Winnipeg dearly — I look forward to these two weeks. It's my favourite stop.
"One little incident isn't going to change that." He is going to be more vigilant about his guitar, however.
"I'm not going to let it out of my sight."
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.