The story of Father Jimmy Tompkins, Joe Laben, Mary Arnold and the roots of the credit union and co-operative movement

13 Apr 2015 | Archives

What if someone told you you could have the life of which you’ve always dreamed? All you have to do is live dangerously and create furiously — together. Once upon a time, a group of miners did just that.

Tompkinsville is the true story of a Cape Breton mining town transformed from despondency to independence thanks to a rebel priest’s belief we can all become “masters of our own destiny” — with a book in one hand and our neighbour’s hand in the other. Tompkinsville, a stage play by Lindsay Kyte, is the story of Father Jimmy Tompkins, Joe Laben, Mary Arnold and the roots of the credit union and co-operative movement.

Ripe with East Coast humour, fierce with the fight for survival and uplifting with hope, love and faith in fellow man, Tompkinsville features original music naturalistically within, written by Ian Sherwood. From rousing strike songs to soft lullabies to toe-tapping Cape Breton ditties, Tompkinsville’s music enhances Joe Laben’s quest to get a home for his family — leading him to become more than he ever dreamed he could be through the irascible Father Jimmy’s belief that together, we can do ten times what we think we can.

This is more than just a story to playwright/performer Lindsay Kyte. A third generation native of Reserve Mines, Cape Breton, where Tompkinsville takes place, and the real-life great-niece of Joe Laben, Kyte discovered this story in 2007 and realized it was the foundation of the reality she had always taken for granted. An eight-year quest to develop this story for the stage has led to Kyte herself having to do and be more than she’d ever thought she’d have to – becoming a keynote speaker for the co-operative movement (TEDx), earning a Masters in Theatre from Paul McCartney’s school in England (Sir Paul himself gave Kyte her degree) and having Tompkinsville be the feature of a ½  hour CBC Radio documentary (“Journey to Tompkinsville”), a television documentary that she hosted (You can DO It!) and numerous interviews/articles across Canada.

Tompkinsville will have its premiere tour in Ontario and Nova Scotia this April 23 – May 3rd and features a cast of actors and musicians from across the East Coast and Ontario (Lee J. Campbell, Laura Caswell, Jarrod MacLean, Kiersten Tough and Ryan Rogerson). Burgandy Code directs and Hannah Burrows and Natalie Gisele serve as stage managers and Cameron Smillie is Executive Producer. Kyte, who grew up singing at the church Father Jimmy once presided over, will be singing the original music of Tompkinsville, with Chris Corrigan on guitar, who was Rita MacNeil’s producer and guitar player.

Shows are at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts (April 23), the Reserve Mines Fire Hall (April 25 & 26), Dr. J.H. Gillis High School in Antigonish (April 30), the deCoste Centre (May 2) and Grafton Street Dinner Theatre as part of Mayworks Halifax (May 3). For tour and show details, as well as contact details for media inquiries, please visit www.tompkinsvilleplay.com. You can contact Lindsay Kyte at 647-237-1386 or goflyakyteproductions@gmail.com.

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