The day has been hot and sunny, one of the few in a predominantly grey summer, so most of the people crossing the Halifax Harbour on the ferry make a beeline to the upper deck to enjoy the ocean breeze. Small children fidget impatiently as adults settle into their seats, some chatting; others plugging into their iPods or opening books.
As the engines roar to life, so too do four oddly dressed passengers. "I'm getting a vibe that someone here knows their history," says a young man in a checkered shirt and striped pants. All eyes swivel towards him. He puts his hand on the shoulder of a bemused-looking man. "Is it you, sir?"
So begins Ferry Boat Tales, a series of three 10-minute vignettes about local history playing six times daily aboard the ferry. The show, which was commissioned by HRM and produced by the educational consulting company Heritage Explorers, is written and performed by members of DaPoPo Theatre, a loose collective of 15 actors.
Garry Williams, artistic director of DaPoPo, coined the company's unusual name when it formed in 2003. "I was in New York City at the time, and settled on the name as an homage, a Haligonian answer to, Theatre LaMaMa. I suppose our name stands for daring, political, poetic and popular."
Since its beginnings, DaPoPo has worked on original, collective creations (Apocalypse 2009), but has also performed popular forms such as musical theatre (Sunday in the Park with George) and shows for young audiences (The Pirate Show). They've also toured Germany and pioneered the popular monthly "theatre a la carte" at the Cafe DaPoPo at Mollyz/Menz Bar on Gottingen.
Unusual settings are de rigueur for DaPoPo's immensely creative actors---the troupe has performed in galleries, private apartments and on construction sites.
"Seeing theatre in places other than on a stage means there's an element of surprise, energy, the excitement of seeing something you've never seen before---or in a way you've never seen before," says Williams. "Sometimes that creates discomfort, since we tend to like what we already know."
The scene on the ferry bears this out. Some people appear uncomfortable with the guerilla style of Ferry Boat Tales, cranking up their music or burying noses deeper in books. But others are clearly interested in learning a snippet of history.
"We've got kind of a captive audience," says actor Steven Bourque, who plays several different roles. "They're not really expecting to see a performance, so we're not offended if they don't want listen. But there are lots of people who do seem to enjoy it."
There are three different stories in the Ferry Boat Tales repertoire. One is of a Confederate cruiser chased into Halifax Harbour by Union ships during the American Civil War, and (spoiler alert!) making a daring nighttime escape through Eastern Passage. Another tells of 13-year-old Joe Cracker, who rescued passengers from the 1797 wreck of the Tribune on Thrum Cap shoal. The last re-enacts the 1749 founding of Halifax.
Back on the ferry, the performance is coming to a close as the boat pulls into the terminal. The bemused-looking man hoists his child into his arms. She says, happily, "That was fun!"