Kitty and Daniel Daly of Riverhead, St. Mary’s Bay, had a dozen children. Born between 1913 and 1934, six of them were very tall; six of them were not.
“Kitty had one able-bodied child, then two really small babies, and she didn’t know why,” explains dancer and documentarian Louise Moyes. “When the third small baby came, she went to see the archbishop to ask him what she should do. He offered to give her absolution so she wouldn’t have to have any more children, but she declined. She and her husband thought, no, if God wants us to have these children, there will be a place for them.”
Six of the Daly children had achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. In a new performance piece, “If a Place Could Be Made,” Louise, director Anne Troake and fellow performer Diana Daly — great-granddaughter of Kitty and Daniel — tell the stories of these siblings and their home life, from St. Mary’s Bay to St. John’s, where they moved as children.
It was a home full of warmth and laughter; of card games and music and a steady stream of visitors, Moyes said. The siblings were very private, very proud, and didn’t want any kind of pity.
“Their parents really gave them this wonderful mix of great self-esteem and protection,” Moyes said. “People say they were the kind of people you could feel like yourself around.”
Daly, whose grandfather was the oldest of the 12 siblings, has memories of her great-aunts and great-uncles, the last of whom died three years ago.
None of the siblings with dwarfism married —“though they would have definitely been married if they had had computers and the Internet like people have today,” Daly said — and they chose to live together and take care of one another in their family home until there were only two aunts left.
They then moved into a condo together, and eventually a nursing home. Daly talks of playing games of spinning nickels with her Uncle Mike and laughing with Aunt Mary and Aunt Cack until they cried. Looking back on them, some of the more poignant memories show just how much faith and a sense of community the family had.
“I remember on Christmas Eve the priest would come and do mass in their living room,” Daly said. “The dining room table became the altar, and the priest’s vestments were washed and prepared by my aunties. What a really wonderful and special Christmas Eve it was to be a part of. They were all very reverent, devout people who saw the human side of religion. They were friends with the priest on a human level.”
Daly is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada and has been working in theatre for close to 20 years. She came home from northern Quebec, where she teaches music to at-risk youth, for the show.
Moyes is a docudancer, who tells stories through dance, sound and video. She first heard of the Daly family when interviewing Daly’s mom, Kay Haynes, for a previous piece called “St. John’s Women.” At the time, Moyes said, the family wasn’t quite ready to share their stories publicly.
When Daly came home to work on “St. John’s Women,” she and Moyes got together with her family, and were given the go-ahead to produce the show.
“If a Place Could Be Made” has been in the works for three years— the women say they wanted to build the show slowly and carefully because of its delicate nature.
“We’re trying to find the right tone,” Moyes explained. The last thing they want is something voyeuristic, she added.
The approach Moyes, Daly and Troake have taken focuses not on stature or ability, but on family: the things family members do for each other and the stories families tell through the years, as parables or warnings or ways of keeping memories alive.
It’s a story, Moyes said, about strong personalities, faith, inclusion, expansion and making the best out of what we’ve been given.
The show uses family photographs, linocuts created by Daly and chalk drawings — executed on the stage floor with a camera overhead, projecting the drawing in real-time on the backdrop — as well as audio recordings of quotes from family members, sharing bits and pieces of memories.
There’s also music: some songs from the Carlton Showband (Aunt Mary and Aunt Cack’s favourite) and some original songs by Daly, who plays the guitar and the accordion in the piece.
“I’ve never had so many stories to tell,” Moyes said, chucking. “There are funny ones, moving ones, religious ones, and miracles everywhere.
Daly says her aunts and uncles would have loved Moyes, and her family members are thrilled with the show as a tribute to them.
“They weren’t special only because they were little,” Daly said. “They were a rare type of people, and there’s so much more to it than stature.”
“If a Place Could Be Made” will debut at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s Feb. 25-27. From there, Moyes and Daly will perform it as a showcase at the Performance Mix Festival in New York in June. It will also run during the Festival of New Dance in St. John’s in October.
Tickets for the February premiere of “If A Place Could Be Made” are available at the LSPU Hall box office, by calling 753-4531 and online at www.rca.nf.ca.
Moyes, Daly and Troake will collect at the show for the Coalition of Persons With Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador.