J. McRee (“Mac”) Elrod was an amazing man who lived a full life. He had a generous heart and was open minded to consider just about anything. When Mac Elrod moved to Vancouver in 1967, it was not just to take a job at the University of British Columbia (UBC), he was also heavily involved in the community and sought ways to help others. He was involved in the movement to assist draft dodgers from the United States and as an ordained minister he volunteered to try to restart the inactive congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church at 823 Jackson Avenue. When he took over control of the building in the fall of 1969, he made a fateful decision. In order to help out a fledgling theatre group who had little funding and no place to rehearse, Mac Elrod agreed to let the Gallimaufry Players use the building during the week when it was not being used for worship services.
The Gallimaufry Players were an experimental theatre group that included lead actors Wayne Robson and Angela Slater. The Ubyssey (which is the student-run newspaper of UBC) published an article in its September 26, 1969 issue (excerpt pictured) about the Gallimaufry Players including an interview with Angela Slater. Their so-called manifesto states that: “The Gallimaufry is a small group of professional actors, directors, designers, and writers dedicated to the production of an Avant-Garde repertory in Vancouver on a regular professional basis. The Gallimaufry exists primarily to say new things in new ways. Whether described as ‘Avant-Garde’, ‘Experimental’ or ‘Radical’; the new theatre comes into existence when the rigidity of the artistic establishment challenges the artist to extend the boundaries.”
And extend the boundaries they did. In 1969 the Gallimaufry put on a production of Michael McClure’s The Beard, a play about a fictional conversation between two legendary figures, Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid, and containing explicit language and a controversial final scene with a simulated sex act. While perhaps not extraordinary by today’s standards, in 1969 it offended some and actors Robson and Slater were arrested for obscenity during one performance, charges which were eventually dropped.
The Ubyssey article notes that: “The Gallimaufry is starting on its first regular winter season this year. The company is still very short of funds and is still without an acceptable location for performance. For the time being, however, it has moved into downtown into the African Methodist Episcopal Church (!) on the corner of Jackson and Prior. The church was donated by its Priest (who, I was told, is somewhat of a freak) and in it the company members live, act, rehearse, write, plan and just generally be.”
Amusingly, the Ubyssey published an apology two weeks later: “Oops. The Ubyssey apologizes profusely for certain comments in its September 26 issue of Page Friday. In an article entitled ‘The Gallimaufry’, it was stated that the members of the Gallimaufry Theatre lived ‘communally together’ in the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Jackson and Prior Street. Also, it was stated that the priest of this church was ‘somewhat of a freak’. The Gallimaufry Theatre Company does not live together in the church. The members have their own individual places of domicile, and only work together in the church. The priest of the church is not a ‘freak’ . He is a responsible citizen, and is actually quite straight.”
In the end it was the presence of the Gallimaufry Players in the building at 823 Jackson Avenue that contributed to the decision to sell the building to Annie Girard. As she recounts in her interview from 1977 (unpublished interview, Marlatt and Itter), Rev. Girard was sharing the building with Mac Elrod at the time and she invited the presiding AME Elder from Seattle, who had the ultimate authority over the building, up to see what was going on. It was this decision in 1969 that ended the AME church in Vancouver and started an era during which Rev. Girard used 823 Jackson Avenue for her own non-denominational services. While retaining the name Fountain Chapel, she referred to her ministry as the Cry in the Wilderness Church.