photo by Julia Mackey • edited by Dirk Van Stralen

In June 2004, Julia travelled to Normandy, France, for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. She attended many ceremonies, walked the coastline and interviewed dozens of veterans who had returned for the occasion. The experiences of the veterans, her own discoveries, and a life long interest in Remembrance Day, led to the development of the play in August of 2006 at The Sunset Theatre in Wells, BC.


the play

Jake’s Gift is a multi-award winning Canadian play about a World War II veteran’s reluctant return to Normandy, France, for the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. While revisiting the shores of Juno beach, Jake encounters Isabelle, a precocious 10-year-old from the local village. Isabelle’s inquisitive nature and charm challenge the old soldier to confront some long-ignored ghosts – most notably the war-time death of his eldest brother, Chester, a once promising young musician. At its heart, Jake’s Gift is about the legacy of remembrance and makes personal the story behind one soldier’s grave. 

Since 2007, Jake’s Gift has gone on to play at festivals and theatres in over 250 communities across Canada, including International stops to Washington State, the UK and Normandy, France, for the 70th & 73rd Anniversary of D-Day. This June, the company is returning to France for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day where they will present performances in French and English at the Juno Beach Centre, and other communities around Normandy.

2019 marks their 13th year of touring, and Juno Productions and Jake’s Gift continue to garner awards and rave reviews whether playing in small rural towns or big city centres.

playwright and performeR

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julia mackey

Julia Mackey was born in Birmingham, England. Her family moved to Canada when she was three years old. She grew up in Montreal, and received an education degree from McGill University before heading out west in 1993 to pursue a career in Theatre.

In 1994, she started writing and performing her own work with the innovative Victoria based company, Theatre SKAM.

In August 2012, Julia received a a Betty Mitchell Calgary Theatre Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Drama. Jake’s Gift was also nominated for Outstanding Production.

When not on tour with Jake’s Gift, Julia lives in the tiny hamlet of Wells, BC, (Lhtako Dené Territory), where she is the Director of Presentations at the Sunset Theatre.

photo by Mia Cirotto

Director and stage manager

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dirk van stralen

Dirk is a four time Jessie Richardson Theatre Award Nominee for acting. (Vancouver’s Theatre Awards) Also an award-winning cartoonist and illustrator, his single panel cartoon, vanstralen, appeared in Vancouver’s The Georgia Straight for 17 years. He is the illustrator of two wordless kids books: Ben’s Big Dig and Ben’s Bunny Trouble.

Other selected Directing credits include: Mamma’s Boy, by Mike Delamont (God Is A Scottish Drag Queen), and Morag Northey’s new play, 17, which was developed and premiered at the historic Sunset Theatre in Wells, BC.

From August 2017 to November 2017, Failing Better, a retrospective of Dirk’s 30 + years of work as a visual artist, cartoonist, illustrator and graphic designer appeared at the Island Mountain Arts Gallery in Wells.

When not on tour with Jake’s Gift, Dirk works as an independent graphic designer and in November 2018 he became Director of Productions at The Sunset Theatre in Wells, BC. (Lhtako Dené Territory).

photo by Mia Cirotto

lighting designer

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gerald king

Gerald’s designs are often seen with Pacific Opera Victoria (most recently for Carmen), Evita and Romeo and Julietta,(The Vancouver Opera), The Drowsy Chaperone (The Vancouver Playhouse,The Citadel and National Arts Centre), Da Kink in My Hair, King Lear, Cats, Much Ado About Nothing, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Theatre Calgary), Bard on the Beach, Theatre Under the Stars, the Arts Club Theatre, Kokoro Dance, Theatre Calgary and Western Canada Theatre. His work has also been seen with opera companies across Canada, Omaha Opera, Baltimore Opera, Ballet British Columbia, the National Ballet of Canada, and the National Arts Centre. He has won eight Jessie Richardson Awards (Vancouver’s Theatre Awards) and is a member of the Associated Designers of Canada.


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cameron smillie

Cameron wears many hats with over 25 years experience in both the corporate world and in the performing arts world. In 1993 he co-founded the company – Live at the Hippo Pool Events Inc. with his partner Carolynn for the purposes of presenting performing arts across southwestern Ontario.

Hippo Pool Events has the distinction of having presented more of Canada’s Ballet Jorgen engagements than any other presenter, over 30 at last count. In addition, Live at the Hippo Pool Events has provided consulting services to a range of clients including Ballet Jorgen Canada, the Brampton Arts Council, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Alberta Ballet, Menaka Thakkar Dance Company and Ballet Kelowna.

Cameron has held corporate marketing positions with companies as varied as the Eastern Ontario Travel Association, Cadillac Fairview and Ascolectric limited. Cameron holds a B.A.Sc. in Consumer Studies from the University of Guelph. Presently he is the Projects Facilitator & Community Development Liaison for the Brampton Arts Council and the Director of Touring for Canada’s Ballet Jorgen.

His volunteer work includes sitting on the Board of the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts in Brantford, Ontario (from 1989 through 2014) and most recently served as Vice President of Ontario Presents (CCI). In addition to consulting projects he has participated as a speaker at a variety of workshops on sponsorship, touring and volunteers. In 2009 he co-produced a speaking tour – The Hart of Art featuring Canada’s Evelyn Hart in a multi-media presentation to four cities in BC. In 2013 & 2014 he was nominated for Agent/ Manager of the Year at both Pacific Contact in Vancouver and at the CAPACOA conference held in Toronto (2014) and in Halifax (2015). In April 2015, Cameron received the BC Touring Council’s Manager of the Year Award.