A retired teacher whose ancestry includes Collingwood’s early settlers is exploring a mysterious local disappearance in 1900 in an original play he wrote for this year’s Gaslight Tour.
Geoff Taylor considers himself a storyteller and collector of stories, so when a family member sent him a short but curious news article from the Enterprise-Bulletin about the disappearance of one Peter Currie, Taylor’s great-great grandfather, Taylor decided it was a story he would tell for the annual local theatre production.
“It’s a single story that showed up about a farmer who came to town, got too drunk at one of the hotels and they put him to bed in one of the rooms, and when they went to check on him in the morning, the room was empty and the window was open,” said Taylor. “The assumption is that he stumbled down to the bay and drowned.”
Since Currie was an ancestor, Taylor knew he lived another 50 years after this incident.
“The story became, why was he faking his own death?” said Taylor. “And then who was after him? Who was he hiding from? Maybe who was he hiding with, and what was going on in town in 1900?”
Taylor played with those questions to create his script, which got workshopped through the Gaslight Theatre’s writing programs. Celebrated playwright Dan Needles runs the annual Page-to-Stage course.
Taylor was a food and nutrition teacher for high school students in Coburg for his career, and moved to Collingwood two years ago, but he spent summers and vacations in the area, staying often with his grandmother — who was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse.
Both his parents grew up in Collingwood, his mom was a Keith, of Keith’s Dairy fame, and his father’s family goes back to Moses Taylor, one of the settlers of Singhampton.
This is Taylor’s second play for Gaslight Theatres, his last was the story of a local brothel, and the disappearance of its proprietor while she was on her way to jail after her court sentence.
His latest play also follows a female protagonist, Peter Currie’s grandmother.
“One of the questions that, I guess, I asked is, to what lengths would a grandmother go to protect her grandson?” said Taylor.
Given he’s taken some creative liberties, he’s changed all the names in the play.
“I call it meticulously researched wild conjectures,” said Taylor.
He has also drawn on some of the events of the day to establish his characters in their time, while also hoping to make them relevant and relatable to today.
The foundation stone for the original Masonic Lodge was laid downtown around the same time as Currie’s disappearance. He’s asked for local stories, interested more, he said, in the “seedier side.”
“There’s such rich characters here,” said Taylor. “There were a lot of people trying to get lost here … And I also tie in the original settlers … it was a tough life, and an unforgiving life. So taking a look at that and then the sense of community that came as a result of that too.”
The Gaslight Tour features four plays about local history, all within the theme of “old news.” The plays will be put on at the Simcoe Street Theatre between Oct. 23 and 29. Tickets sold out a few days after sales opened. This will be the first year the plays are in a theatre, as typically the Gaslight plays are performed at various locations around town and patrons walk to each of the spots.
Taylor's play, A Farmer's Mysterious Disappearance, will be directed by Sandra Burley.
You can learn more about Gaslight Theatre Productions, the plays and the courses, online at gaslighttheatreproductions.com. Taylor is one of four playwrights featured in this year’s tour. CollingwoodToday will feature all four in stories this week.