In November and December of 1936 Stephen Leacock appeared in the flesh in western Canada for the first time. From Port Arthur and Fort William (now Thunder Bay) to Victoria and seven cities in between he regaled audiences with his humour and challenged their thinking with his ideas. People expected a humorist, and got one. They may or may not have expected a teacher and a pundit.
In October and November of 2017 Leslie Robbins-Conway and Paul Conway, who are Voyageur Storytelling of Northern Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, will represent him in presentations of his wit and ideas along the same route. They do not pretend to impersonate Stephen Leacock, only to represent him, by performing his works and talking about his ideas.
Stephen Leacock died in 1944. His presence on this “Re-Tour” will be in the spirit, as what he called a phantasm, phanogram, phanogrammatical manifestation, psycho-phantasmal phenomenon, or perhaps even a phantoid.
He himself was sceptical of all suggestions of an etherial existence in any real sense. Re-Tour audiences need not be. Stephen Leacock’s spirit remains fully vibrant among us through his fifty-three books, most of which can be found on-line, and through dedicated performers such as Leslie and Paul.
The Re-Tour will launch from Orillia on October 20th-21st, and proceed to Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Vancouver, and Victoria, ending back in Vancouver on November 28th. The weather in northern Ontario, the prairies, and the mountains will, of course, be glorious and snow-free at that time of year, at least some of the time. Leslie and Paul are old hands, however, and know the country.
Looking across the range of their different events, the Stephen Leacock they present will be the full one, a man of humour, as is well known, but also a man of ideas and opinions, some still relevant, some not. Times change and ideas evolve, like the living organisms they are. He himself evolved in his exceptionally energetic lifetime, from a teacher of modern languages, to a political economist, to a social-political economist, to a primitive articulation of the need for enviromental-social-political economics, a scope highly relevant to our times. His role in the progression of these ideas may be largely forgotten, but it was real.
He never pulled them all together with a catchy label. He was not that kind of thinker. He came close in 1919 when, in the shadow of World War I and its aftermath, he wrote a book called The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. In the “thinker” parts of their Re-Tour, Leslie and Paul, with the help of their participants, will develop the idea of a “General Theory of Unsolved Riddles”. He laid the foundations, but the edifice remains unbuilt.
In the “laughter” parts they will perform his works and tell his stories, the cream of them, the ones that ensure that however narrow his memory may become, it will never entirely die away. When at his best, he reigns supreme. Leslie and Paul have a style in performing his humorous works, which is to set them to music and perform them together, along with more conventional storytelling. Their performances are thus highly diverse.
You can find details on their web site, http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca