Jamie Konchak tackles a young girl’s dreams of stardom in Lunchbox Theatre’s Miss Caledonia

The dream of being a movie star is pretty much universal, with most of us having daydreamed about the glitz and glamour at some point in our youth, regardless of where we grew up. Playwright Melody Johnson recognizes this unifying dream and, drawing on her own family’s experiences, brings us Miss Caledonia, the final show in Lunchbox Theatre’s 2017/18 season. Here we are introduced to Peggy Ann Douglas, whose visions of Hollywood stardom lead her into a local beauty pageant as a young girl. The story is given life and told by the older version of herself, played by the extremely talented Jamie Konchak.

“It’s the older Peg sharing the story of growing up on the farm,” explains Konchak, “and kind of facing the reality of where she lives, the dreams that she has of Hollywood and being a movie star, and it’s so contradictory to the world that she lives in.”

This is Konchak’s first one-woman show in a while, and indeed the first time that the character, Peg, has been played by someone other than the playwright herself, Melody Johnson, who created the play and the character as a sort of homage to her family. “(She’s) a fantastic actor and comedian,” says Konchak, “and I was thinking that a lot of artists and actors dream of telling the story of a family member, either of their mother or their grandmother, and she’s done this in such a beautiful way.”

The setting for the show in 1950’s rural Ontario is familiar, with many of us on the prairies having similar roots, and similar ancestral ties. It wasn’t uncommon at this time for young girls to try to find a way to get off of their family farm and find their way into the world, and, often, pageants seemed like a means to this end. For Peggy Ann Douglas, however, it would seem that her efforts to escape the farm life led more to some realizations about who she is and where she comes from. “She’s telling the story of herself as a 15-year-old girl,” explains Konchak. “When you’re trying to find out, ‘Who am I?’ and the pains of growing up and rejecting your world only to realize that it built you and it made you and it supported you and there’s something beautiful in that. You kind of come around and you look at it differently and you go, ‘I’m really grateful for these experiences.’

“It’s a good reminder, doing a play like this, like human beings are capable of a lot. It’s just nice to realize that the world is a big place and we have our tiny little pockets of existence and experience,” continues Konchak, adding that the parallels between rural life then and now are not so different. “There are other people who are out there who are (still) relying on living off the land, and (the 1950’s) wasn’t that long ago, do you know what I mean? But we have such a  disconnect from that.”

Miss Caledonia is pure charm and enjoyment, but not without thoughtfulness according to Konchak. “There are the plays that are satisfying because they are big thinking plays, they are big emotional plays that ask something of your mind, of your heart, of your values, and this is a really enjoyable story. I think that people will see a lot of and feel a lot of echoes from their own life. I think you’ll see your grandmother, your mom, your great grandma, and I hope that people go, ‘I want to know a bit more about my family history.’ ”

Directing Miss Calendonia this run is Karen Johnson-Diamond who brings a warmth to the show. According to Konchak, her directing approach is refreshing and so complementary to this charming play. “She’s such a fan of theatre and actors, which I find is such an asset as a director, because they want to play with you. She always wants to play.”

And although it is a one-woman play, Konchak is joined onstage by Aleksandra Danicic, whose musical contribution helps deliver the narrative the story.

Miss Caledonia is presented by Lunchbox Theatre and runs until April 21. Information and tickets can be found at Lunchbox Theatre.

(Photo: Jamie Konchak. Benjamin Laird Photography)

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Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at