Bridging the Gulf


by Denis Armstrong, The Ottawa Sun

armed-forces-military-entertainment
BigTime ringleader Pete Dillon and company – Jamie Douglas, Gabrielle Mackenzine and Mark Kennedy – were joined by musicians Diane White, Barney Bentall and Tony D. and stand-up comedian Winston Spear for three nights of Canadian culture in the Middle East.

With global tensions heating up the Persian Gulf, the Defence Department called in the big guns last month.

No, not Bob Hope, but local comedy troupe BigTime Murder Mystery Theatre.

The comedy theatrical company, after all, is used to entertaining stressed-out corporate clientele. So, in January, the company shipped out for a 12-day tour of Canadian camps to give our troops some comic relief.

BigTime ringleader Pete Dillon and company – Jamie Douglas, Gabrielle Mackenzine and Mark Kennedy – were joined by musicians Diane White, Barney Bentall and Tony D. and stand-up comedian Winston Spear for three nights of Canadian culture in the Middle East.

As guests of the Department of National Defence’s Forces Personnel Support Agency, BigTime provided fast-footed sketches of American Idol and The Gong Show that had the audience up on its feet.

The rest of the time, the company – billeted in a secret location – schlepped around the base talking news from home with the troops, some of whom have been stationed in the Gulf since October.

DEEP-SEA FISHING

Between shows, Dillon and company enjoyed deep-sea fishing in the Persian Gulf.

“The fishing was great, 26 degrees and the water was the bluest I’ve ever seen,” he says with unrestrained enthusiasm.

“On my right was Iran, to the left was Kuwait and straight ahead was Iraq. It was so peaceful and beautiful, it was eerie knowing what’s going on.”

In the end, the 12-day excursion was more emotionally exhausting than physically taxing.

“I asked a soldier what the worst part of being station in the Persian Gulf was: The waiting, the heat, the danger?,” says Dillon. “‘The hardest part is my son turns four tomorrow and I can’t be with him,’ he whispered.”

The experience has renewed Dillon’s affection for his country.

“We sand O Canada after each show. It was an experienced that every Canadian should have. We’re just as patriotic as Americans. We just need a reason.”

Dillon found his reason in the soldiers.

“Our mission was to build the morale in the troops, with the best show we could do,” he says.

“The troops thanked the cast after each show. But they had it backwards. It was we who should be thanking our armed forces for the hob they’re doing. The experience has left me feeling proud to be Canadian and proud of our armed forces.”

Would he do it again?

“In a hurry,” says Dillon.

Dillon has the Midas touch. The entrepreneurial-minded actor lauched BigTime 11 years ago with only $5,000. The company has since grown into one of the country’s largest corporate and private entertainment agencies, producing 140 events and bringing in more than $250,000 a year in revenues out of its Ottawa and Toronto offices.

The troupe’s next public appearance is at the Devonshire Public School fundraiser on April 5.

In addition, Dillon appears regularly on The NewRO series Ottawa – Technically Funny.

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