Defy gravity at your peril: Dead Centre Of Town XI at Fort Edmonton

Dead Centre Of Town, Catch The Keys Productions. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The principle of “what goes up must come down” as applied to air travel isn’t an entirely comforting thought. Defying gravity might have been a blast for Peter Pan but, trust me, it doesn’t always work out. And Edmonton has the history to prove it, as you’ll find out at Dead Centre Of Town XI

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Fort Edmonton Park is an eerie place on a fall night. Fields with a single mystery light planted somewhere in the middle: landing strips for aliens? Old houses with an unidentifiable glow in a single upstairs window: haunted? A long boardwalk threads through the park, and as you walk you catch a side glimpse of a faded poster: a smudgy hand reaches toward the lettering: “A Taste Of Eternity.”

And then, just off one of the Fort’s vintage streets is a giant of a building, the 1929 Blatchford Field Air Hangar, pale in the moonlight, its secrets sealed inside. Before we enter we gather around a bonfire, which is the international signal for ghost story.

Dead Centre of Town. Photo by Marc J. Chalifoux.

Secrets, long buried, are the point  of Catch The Keys Productions’ annual foray into the graveyard of our collective history. Playwright Megan Dart is the exhumer who uncovers the ghoulish, shivery stories that have been composting, unknown to most of us, in the E-town soil. Director Beth Dart and a cast of 13 bring the ghosts to life.

Inside you’re in the maze of an airport which, as in all airports, means you never quite know where you are. Instead of aggro, though, you get anxiety. You thread your way through corridors where shadows flicker and grow huge behind translucent walls, sinister sounds echo, and the undead give you a nudge from time to time — or emerge, in ghastly, hollow-eyed chalk-faced pallor, to smile as they look you right in the eye or whisper in your ear.

Can you find your flight, the one indicated on your boarding pass? No one’s asking for your frequent flyer number; it’s just assumed. The proposition of Dead Centre Of Town XI is that real E-town history can turn complacency to horror. There are freakish accidents, lethal crashes in snowstorms, mid-air conflagrations, mystery disappearances and abandonments, terrible consequences on the ground, live cargoes splattered through the universe. Edmonton after all is the gateway to the middle of nowhere, and it’s a big empty cold nowhere.

Spectral flight attendants from hell, soldiers on a countdown to doom, pilots who are dead before they even take the wheel, cargoes splattered over the cosmos … our history is surprisingly gruesome. I’m pretty sure I saw a ghoulish nun on one of my flights: Edmonton as the gateway to the Great Beyond. As our chief tour steward Colin Matty sneers, “If god had intended man to fly, he wouldn’t have made him so squishy.” 

It’s a chilling immersion in the combo of  human error, mechanical failure and E-town’s terrible weather that is a formidable obstacle to longevity. This conjuring of the ghostly is made possible by a whole team of designers, including Michael Caron (sound), John Evans and Kat Evans (set, costume, make-up and lighting). The lighting sources, like the ghosts, are unexpected in Beth Dart’s production.

Have I said too much? I can’t tell you more without spoiling the hair-raising. Let me leave you with this: Dead Centre of Town XI is not for the queasy air traveller. Have a peek at the 12thnight.ca preview here

Dead Centre of Town XI runs through Oct. 31 at the Blatchford Field Air Hangar, Fort Edmonton Park. Tickets: fortedmontonpark.ca,  eventbrite.ca. 

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