A 1930s snapshot of my Grandpa Dick Warner as a strange Japanese emperor — what did it mean? Dick, who grew up in Victoria West, was active in amateur dramatics as a youth (as was his mother and aunt). It seemed he’d been in The Mikado or something like that, but I wanted to know more. I turned to the wonderful digitized The Daily Colonist at britishcolonist.ca and found an answer. Dick had played the “peppery potentate” Emperor Hokipokitipitoptop.
On March 13 and 14 1936, two hundred pupils of the elementary schools performed a Japanese Operetta in three acts, Princess Ju Ju or the Golden Amulet. The show, written in 1902 by Clementina Ward, appears to be a knock-off of The Mikado designed for amateur theatre groups. A Guide to Musical Theatre gives a synopsis: “Festivities are being held in honour of the coming of age of the Emperor’s daughter Princess Ju Ju.” The Emperor expects a noble prince (who it was foretold by a wise woman at her birth would appear to claim her as his bride) Due to a misunderstanding, the Emperor imprisons the prince, who is rescued just in time from beheading by the Lord High Executioner.
The school production had two roles: to show the musical talent of Victoria school children and to raise money for school programs. The Daily Colonist reported that Princess Ju Ju would “give the public the opportunity of seeing what progress has been made in the schools since the school board re-instituted musical training in the schools.” It would also “disclose the development of dramatic ability in addition to giving the children the opportunity to exhibit their talents as dancers.” The proceeds of the show would be added to the Children’s Charity Fund, which was used in a variety of ways to give assistance to indigent pupils in the school population.
Princess Ju Ju was performed at the Empire Theatre on the evenings of Friday March 13 and Saturday March 14. There was also a Saturday afternoon matinee for school children. The Daily Colonist was impressed by the production, calling it “a glorious spectacle of Resplendent Colour and Exquisite music.” Special mention was given to the principal leads, one who was 15 year old Dick Warner of Victoria West Elementary School. “Richard Warner made a very convincing and at times amusing Emperor Hokipokitipitoptop.” The Daily Colonist, March 14 1936
After mentioning the merits of other leads, the reviewer noted: “Since there were 200 in the entire cast, space prevents the publication of their names but the hope is expressed that in the success of the entire production they will realize that they all played an important role.”
It seems that the most important feature of the show was that the cast could be heard and didn’t flub their lines: “Two things of striking importance which the entire cast grasped were perfect enunciation and confidence in their lines. “If there was any prompting it could not be heard and the show moved forward in a rapid but smooth pace, so that the performance was over exactly on time.” It would seem that the reviewer had endured many previous school performances and was pleasantly surprised!
What did the audience think? One member of the audience, Mr. C.J. Bailey of Monterey Avenue, was clearly impressed. In a letter to the editor published on March 21 1936, he noted that “Richard Warner held a part well suited to his abilities and he pleased the audience by his acting.”
However, audience numbers were low. The newspaper reviewer admitted: “Despite past successes of school productions, the theatre was not filled for last night’s performance though it is understood that this afternoon’s presentation and this evening’s are almost sold out.”
C.J. Bailey expanded on the issue: “The City School Board is to be commended for allowing pupils of the city schools to participate in an operetta of such a high standard. The public should have shown their appreciation for the efforts put forward by the director and his very able assistants by seeing that the house was completely filled at each of the performances… I can only hope that plays of such a high standard will be put on in our city more frequently and at the same time be better patronized as such efforts deserve to be… The children of today are the citizens of tomorrow, and it is a disgrace that the parents do not take more interest in their children and give encouragement by attending various functions put on by younger generations.”
That said, Dick’s family no doubt took an interest and gave encouragement. Dick came from a family tradition of amateur dramatics, stretching back to the 1890s. I’ve learned through the digitized Daily Colonist that Dick’s mother’s family, the Lawries, were very involved in amateur dramatics. His uncle Henderson Lawrie, aunt Clara Colby and her husband Albert Colby appeared in many Victoria West Amateur Dramatic Society (VWADS) shows. Close friend Chris Hollyer (and Dick’s honorary “uncle” who lived with the family at 708 Suffolk) was a popular comedian in VWADS shows and also served as props manager and secretary. He was also a Sergeant-Major in the local militia.
In her youth, Dick’s mom Dorothy performed in shows such as The Missing Miss Miller and Arabian Nights, where she played “Rose Columbier, an acrobat.
Dorothy’s sister Ivy was a keen amateur thespian with the Western Star Amateur Dramatic Society. In this same organization, Dick’s grandfather Edwin was property man and grandmother Emma was assistant secretary. Ivy’s daughter, Dick’s cousin Marguerite Hasenfratz, gave recitations at aged 5, when she was noted for her “clear enunciation”. In her teens, she played “Mother Goose” at a church pageant: “There is also a recitation by Miss Margaret Hasenfratz who is only 5 years old and delights her many listeners with her clear enunciation.” (Daily Colonist, December 1920)
Dick’s younger sister Barbara had also been bitten by the stage bug. In February 1936, Barbara attended the annual Esquimalt Brownie Pack Valentine’s Day party. She performed in a sketch of an old Scottish gossip and also danced the highland fling.
There’s another neat photo in Dick’s album of a “King Charles” / English Civil War sort of play. To date, I haven’t found any reference to such a play being performed, but I’ll keep my eyes out for any clues in The Daily Colonist.
Later, I’ll share more theatrical family fun, as I look at my Nanny Katie Hacking’s vaudeville adventures in Tofino in the 1930s!