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A tale of salamanders and Saltcoats

Prep for February dinner theatre production is underway.
Jens Vincent and Dougal Farquharson in early rehearsals for The Salamander’s Tale.

SALTCOATS – The Laketown Players are busy preparing for its February dinner theatre production of The Salamander’s Tale. 

The play is a definite ‘Saltcoats-story’ as it was written by Stephen Farquharson, who was born and raised in the community. 

And of course the town is famous, at least locally, as home to hundreds of the amphibians. 

“Saltcoats has forever been associated with the Tiger Salamanders that inhabit the area, and when I was a young boy, in autumn, when it rained, the streets would literally be covered with salamanders, to the point you had trouble putting your foot down without stepping on one,” recalled Farquharson.   

“Some of the kids went out of their way to kill them, but my friends and I always were careful with them and tried to save them from getting squished if we could.  

“I think the beginnings of the play were certainly born during those times in my life.”  

Farquharson said his interest never really waned.  

“Another interesting thing about salamanders is their ability to regrow certain parts of their body, and the myths about certain types of them being born in fire,” he said, adding that was stuff that can inspire a writer.  

“It is a comedy, but I think it also has some important messages within it,” said Farquharson. “I wrote the play in 2018, and we were almost ready to perform in 2019 when COVID shut everything down.   

“Since then, I’ve re-written it a bit -- a couple years to edit and revise wasn’t a bad thing for the play’s sake -- but not much of substance has changed from the original. The play was written prior to COVID, but I think the message within the play of re-birth and regeneration is even more important today.”   

Farquharson then refers to the teaser put out for the play is ‘the mystery of the giant salamander of Mud Puppy Lake might just run deeper than the lake itself’.   

For Farquharson who has taught in Saltcoats, Theodore, YRHS, Yorkdale, and then back to Saltcoats, before retiring in 2017, although he still substitute teaches, has always held some interest in writing.  

“I took some creative writing classes at U of S and have tried my hand at writing at various times in my life,” he said. “It wasn’t until I was involved in Dinner Theatre productions in Saltcoats that I decided to try writing a play. Finding a play that seemed good and that fit our group was getting more and more difficult as we often have over 14 actors wanting to be a part of things, including several students from Saltcoats School and the YRHS.   

“So I thought maybe I could write one specifically for us.   

“My first play was ‘Peanuts and Cracker Jacks’ and I received enough positive feedback that I thought I’d try again when I wrote ‘The Alley Cat and the Scrap Heap Kids’.   

“I’ve been involved with the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild from time to time, but haven’t pursued getting my plays published at this point. This is now my sixth play, and I feel very honoured that The Laketown Players are willing to put so much effort into bringing my plays to life.”  

Farquharson said he finds writing “an interesting process.”  

“Sometimes it’s a tough go, where nothing really flows. When I get like that, I usually leave my laptop alone for a while.   

“When the ideas have bounced around in my head long enough, then the writing often feels more like taking dictation.”  

One day Farquharson added he’d like his work to go to a broader audience. 

“It would be fun to one day get some of my plays published, but for now, I’m happy using them to raise money for community groups in Saltcoats,” he said. “This year’s play will raise money for the Regional Park, the Curling Club, the YFBTA, the Hall Board, museum, and possibly others.   

“It feels really good to do work with the wonderful people of The Laketown Players and do so much good for our community at the same time.”  

This performance will also have a certain sadness as it becomes a memorial of sorts. 

“In the time since we were first going to perform the play until now, we lost three very important members of group, all to different forms of cancer,” said Farquharson.   

“The three were Jim McCallum (along with his wife Phyllis for years) was our ticket master, Joan Wilson was one of the pillars of our acting corp as well as our resident artist for props and sets, and Joan Farquharson who supported the group with baking for practices and any number of behind the scenes jobs. She was also always one of the first to read my manuscripts, and often had great ideas for revisions -- and places she worried that I’d crossed yet another line.  

“We are going to dedicate the performances to all three of these special people that the community, and The Laketown Players, miss very dearly.”  

The play is scheduled to be performed Feb. 2, 3 and 4. Tickets can be purchased from Les and Shirley Pearson at 306-716-6564. 

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