Born and raised in Vancouver, I have lots of wonderful memories growing up in Canada's lower left corner. But few are as wonderful or as colourful as those I cherish from the summer of 1986. It was May 2, thirty years ago today, that my home town opened its doors to welcome to world to EXPO 86, and over the course of the next five and a half months, more than 22 million people showed up.
Happy 30th Birthday, EXPO 86!
Thought by many to be the summer that Vancouver grew up, for locals like me, it was as if some even-better-version of Disneyland had come to my back yard, and in a way, it had. Orlando-based SAK Theatre (now SAK Comedy Lab) was a fixture on site at Disney's EPCOT in the '80s, and they brought their crowd-pleasing antics to EXPO as one of the only troupes to play the entire fair, six shows a day, every day, from early May to mid-October. Three of SAK's founding finest came up from Florida and were joined by four local performers, chosen through auditions from Vancouver's improv theatre community. I was one of them.
Taking to the streets with audience-participation scripts (and I use the word 'scripts' very loosely, as these scripts were very loose!), we rotated through three different fairy tale spin-offs. Rain or shine (though for Vancouver, there was surprisingly little rain that summer), we'd gather our crowd and play our plays, different every time, but always great fun. You'd think, given our high-energy performance schedule, that at the end of a shift, I'd be the first to escape the crowds and head home. Not a chance. Even on my days off, I was among the many who took every opportunity to soak it all up on the transformed shores of False Creek, hanging out with old friends, making new ones from around the world, touring the more than fifty pavilions, watching other shows by other people, just watching people in general having the summer of their lives at this once-in-a-lifetime event. Like any big city big budget project, EXPO 86 had its critics, but for this 20-something West Coaster, it was pretty much perfect. As a member of the cast of one of the fair's most popular street shows, and as a resident of the hosting city, I couldn't have been more proud.
With so many ways to selfie these days, remember, this was a time when people were just getting voice mail for the first time. On their landlines. Cell phones were rare (and really big!) and they certainly didn't take pictures. For that reason, I cherish this colourful candid portrait, taken with a telephoto lens during a performance by my even-more-proud dad who was often in the crowd for a SAK storytelling. A well-connected media man at the time, he and his Canon captured many faces on film that summer, including this intimate close-up of one of the world fair's millions of guests, the one-in-a-million Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, who was there to cut the rainbow-striped ribbon and welcome the world exactly 30 years ago today.
Also 20-something at the time, her EXPO experience was certainly nothing like mine, and yet, there we both were, at an event that brought so many different people together, from around the corner and around the world. I can honestly count on one hand how many days I wasn't on site that summer. As the song said, "Something's Happenning Here" and if it was happening again this summer, I'd be there to do it all again.
If you weren't at EXPO 86, the first few minutes of this promo video sums it up, and the rest will give you a more in-depth capture of what you missed. And if you were there, say so with a Like, or celebrate this 30th birthday by sharing your memories in the Comments.
Colourful street theatre and a royal visit were certainly highlights from the summer of '86. But there was something even more colourful happening the year before. Read about it in EXPO 86, PART 2.