The Boblo Island Amusement Park rides of the are gone. The old dance hall, built in 1910, still stands, but rusts away amongst falling buildings, and once bright lamp posts linger in vacant fields.
The Boblo Island Amusement Park, which was on an island in the Detroit River, across from the town of Amherstburg, Ont., was in operation from 1898 to 1993.
A visit there by couple and creative partners Erin Brandenburg and Andrew Penner led them to their latest creation, titled Boblo – a fusion of theatre, music and visual art.
“It was so weird because I remember going there as a kid and seeing all these things when it was vibrant and alive,” Brandenburg. “Now going back as an adult, I don’t feel like it was that long ago, but it is this totally different place.”
Brandenburg and Penner, otherwise known as Kitchenband and who live at Brock and Queen in Parkdale, both grew up in Leamington, Ont., which is a hour east of Amherstburg. Boblo was a childhood playground for the pair.
“We both had the same reference points. We had been there as kids and our families had gone,” she explained. “It was a happy and good place.”
That disjointed juxtaposition of today’s ruins contrasted against the vibrant, fun-filled space of yesteryear gave rise to the creation of Boblo.
Even though it has been closed for nearly 20 years, people have a strong connection to the island and the memories of the amusement park, she said.
She said a development company now owns the island and about one third of the land has been developed as a gated community of sorts with huge houses and condos.
“It’s all very manicured and there’s a marina and a restaurant and it’s all very clean and nice and beautiful,” she said. “The other two-thirds of the island is the old amusement park buildings.”
The majority of the show is original music written by Penner and played by a six-piece band. The style spans the life of the amusement park, so it goes from old-time vaudeville pieces to 1980s pop.
Within that music there is a story of a woman who is trying to piece together memories and snippets of stories to find meaning in it all.
“It is definitely not a beginning-middle-end of a story,” she said. “It is definitely a collage or a meditation with stories, images and music, all talking about this island as the theme.
“We are almost trying to show the landscape of the memory of a place,” Brandenburg said.
Boblo will be akin to seeing a music concert, but weaving in and out of the songs and layering on top of them are stories and memories of the island amusement park as well as video projection, lights, family photos, souvenirs and sound.
“We are playing with combining a theatrical experience and storytelling with that musical sensibility,” she said. “Also the energy of a live performance.”
It is a marriage of the couple’s talents and experience: Brandenburg’s training and expertise in theatre and Penner, who performs in the Toronto-based band the Sun Parlour Players.
“For the last five or six years we have been doing more and more of our own creations,” she said.
“The way we have been putting things together is getting really talented artists that we want to work with in the room and then letting everyone invest their own ideas and memories and whatever they are excited about doing into the project,” she said.
A co-production by Kitchenband and The Theatre Centre, Boblo was created through a two-year residency at the Theatre Centre and will be performed in The Great Hall Black Box Theatre at 1087 Queen St. W. This will be the last show the theatre centre produces in the space before they move to their new home in the Historic Carnegie Library in the fall 2013.
Boblo runs from Nov. 22 to Dec. 2, Wednesday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m. and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. There will also be a late night show Friday, Nov. 30 at 10.30 p.m.
To purchase tickets, visit www.theatrecentre.org