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Half the Battle: Play’s Calgary premier explores cost of war through the eyes of Canadian WW2 co-pilots

It’s nearing the end of World War 2 and the co-pilots of a Canadian Lancaster bomber have been shot down.

The duo, who are from opposite sides of the country – Alberta and Newfoundland – despise each other but have to spend time in purgatory on a journey of realization and acceptance.

That’s the premise of Half the Battle, a one-man play from Alberta playwright and actor, Owen Bishop, presented in Calgary at Arts Commons by Sage Theatre and DIY Theatre.

Inspiration for the performance, in which the two characters, Adams and Davis, are forced to reveal what brought them to fight for Canada, their experiences in the war and what sacrifices were made back home, came from a trip Bishop took a decade ago to Canadian battlefields in Europe.

Bishop toured all of Canada’s major battlefields: Vimy Ridge, Normandy, Dieppe, Ypres, and he picked something up from the cemetery tours.

“What I noticed when the pilot and co-pilot were shot down, their tombstones were attached to symbolize their partnership lasting into the afterlife,” he said.

“When I was tasked with creating a one-man show when I graduated from theatre school, I thought, what if both of these guys, who were buried together, hated each other and were stuck in the afterlife.”

One character is an Alberta farmer, the other an East-Coast fisherman from Newfoundland. Bishop calls them the classic odd-couple; one’s neat, tidy, rigorous and follows the rules. The other is a bit blasé – a loose cannon, if you will.

The pair were thrust together in combat as the war wound to a close. Squadrons were being patched together and personnel were being diverted.

“These were pilots who had flown together for not an insignificant amount of time, but who have wildly different pasts, both during the war and well before the war,” Bishop explained.

Half the Battle is showing at Arts Commons from Oct. 31 to Nov. 10. Tickets $25 each, available online at sagetheatre.com

“Despite having flown together, it was purely a mechanical and a professional and military relationship. Now they’re forced into this situation where they have no choice but to poke and prod each other based on the assumptions they have of one another.”

It leads to secrets being revealed and a new friendship being born. Bishop said what’s revealed shows the devastating effect of war beyond battlefield.

“The real tragedy behind it is the war had a much farther-reaching effect than just the European theatre. It struck home for a lot of people,” he said.

“That’s one of the great motifs – how far apart they begin in this story and then the fact that they can not only encourage and root for each other but fight for each other in the end.”

Bishop said he first put pen to paper back in 2014 with plans for the play to be ready for Canada’s 150th birthday. It’s been performed a few times since then, including at the Edmonton Fringe Festival.

The fact the Calgary performances, which run from Oct. 31 to Nov. 10, lead up to Remembrance Day, is something Bishop called a “beautifully coincidental.”

“One of the (early) reviews talked about the younger generation taking up the torch and remembering Canada and the Second World War and how that’s something that has been faltering,” he said.

“The timing of the show was beautifully coincidental, but the show is important to put on and produce and create at this time, simply because it’s not being talked about a lot.”

Half the Battle is written and performed by Bishop, directed by Shelby Nicole Reinitz and is co-produced through the Sage Theatre’s Stepping Stone new play program.