On Strike!

Taras Luchak is not your typical worker in the real estate industry. Away from the office, he undergoes a transformation that allows him to take on a completely different persona. 

The affable 12-year assistant executive-director of the Manitoba Real Estate Association has also been a lawyer, an aspiring football player, a Ukrainian dancer and is now performing in Strike! The Musical, playing at Theatre in the Park in Kildonan Park. 

Luchak plays six characters in the musical, including a worker and a priest. “The most challenging thing for me is all the costume changes,” he added.

Strike! is the story of the Winnipeg General Strike of May-June 1919 and, in particular, one of the bystanders killed during “Bloody Saturday” on June 21 — Mike Sokolowski (also see story pages 6 to 9).

“It sure is a compelling story,” said Luchak of the musical with songs and lyrics by Danny Schur and script by Rick Chafe. “It’s a terrific story. It’s an important historical event. Most significantly it’s about a time in Winnipeg that few people know about.

“He (Schur) brings balance to the story of the strike. You see the conflicts — it’s not just black and white — the clashing political and social interests.

“You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.”

Luchak, who is also the general manager of the MREA Insurance Management Corporation, has had a lifelong love for the stage. “It’s always been my first love. I love the whole experience.”

But, his dream of a career under the lights has been occasionally interrupted by the realities of life. “I went down the path of conformity and chose to embrace a lifestyle that paid the bills,” he said.

He may have chosen conformity, but Luchak has had quite a diverse and rewarding experience as a performer. For 25 years, he was with the Rusalka Ukrainian dance ensemble as a dancer and then member of the executive. As a member of the troop, he toured Canada, the United States, England, Scotland and the former Soviet Union.

When Luchak became a member of the board of directors for the Rusalka dancers, he took part in a private performance in Italy for Pope John Paul II. 

His dancing had ended rather abruptly when his knees and back “blew out.”

Luchak’s wonky knees also ended his attempt at playing university football and a subsequent career in professional football.

“I practiced with the (University of Manitoba) Bisons for just two weeks. Into the second week of training camp, my football dream ended when my body went kaput.”

Instead of playing on the gridiron, Luchak settled for 10 years as a divorce and litigation lawyer, but in the back of his mind was always the option of performing on the stage.

It took Schur to awaken Luchak to the merits of returning to the stage. 

“I hadn’t done anything since the mid-’70s,” he said. “Then five years ago, Danny dragged me out of my hibernation to do The Bridge in 2000-01. We even took the play to Brandon.”

Since the rejuvenation of his acting career, Luchak has also been a movie extra. He has appeared in the disaster movie Category Six and the story about the cast members of the former popular sit-com Three’s Company called Behind the Scenes. 

“It’s always fun,” he said of his participation in the movies made right here in Winnipeg.

Luchak said he came out of hiatus out of a desire to support Schur. “He’s the underdog we’re all pulling for and everybody loves. I hope the public embraces it (Strike!)”

Actually, theatrical critics haven’t been all that kind to Schur. His first musical, The Bridge, received some less than kind local reviews (reviewers of Strike! have been considerably kinder). Luchak believes the panning of Schur’s work was mostly unwarranted. “It wasn’t a bad show. Frankly, I thought he would get more respect. But, we tend to eat our own.”

Luchak said he wanted desperately to again be part of Schur’s production. 

“I just had to make the time for auditions. To be in the show in whatever capacity. 

“It’s a privilege, an opportunity, to perform with all these professional actors.”

Actually, Luchak is not any different from you and me — at one time or another most of us have dreamed of pursuing a different career or profession until we woke up to reality or an obvious lack of talent. 

The major difference between most of us and Luchak is that he only temporarily gave up on his dream. He took full advantage of opportunity when it again came knocking.