A field of dreams - Shawn Loughlin editorial
When I came home from seeing The Downs at the Blyth Festival’s new outdoor Harvest Stage, I saw that the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox had played each other that night as well. They played the first-ever official Major League Baseball game at the Field of Dreams, a from-scratch stadium built in Iowa, adjacent to the site of the iconic movie’s baseball field.
Kevin Costner, the Field of Dreams star, was even there to do the honours, making his way through the outfield corn field, followed by both team’s players, leading to the start of the game (though, notably, the Academy Award winner did not throw out the first pitch).
Now, I should get this out of the way upfront and say that I am a fraud in that I have not seen Field of Dreams. Yes, I am a lifelong baseball and film fan who has not seen Field of Dreams (favourite baseball movies: The Sandlot and Major League, and most recently, Moneyball).
What everyone remembers about the movie, whether you’ve seen it or not, is the iconic, other-worldly refrain that leads Costner to build the field in the first place: “If you build it, he will come.”
Often misquoted as “if you build it, they will come”, Costner’s Ray Kinsella finds that the “he” in the original sentence (spoiler alert for those of you who haven’t seen it... like me) eventually refers to Ray’s father. The mantra, however, has been adopted by all manner of “idea man” as the foundational text dictating that they trust their instincts and build “it” and if they do... “they” will indeed come.
Not to get overly dramatic (of which I’ve no doubt been guilty in this space once or twice before), but seeing that as I laid in bed, I couldn’t help but think of the Harvest Stage as a small-scale, theatrical Field of Dreams. For Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt, his team, the actors, directors and craftspeople able to work in Blyth this season and fans of theatre all across the province, it must feel that way. I know it does for me as someone who lives, works and is raising a family in Blyth.
As I wrote in my review of The Downs, Sheryl Scott’s show that opened this unique, one-of-a-kind season of the Blyth Festival, was the perfect warm welcome back to live theatre for those of us who have been cooped up, taking the pandemic seriously and avoiding unnecessary outings. Stepping out is just different now. Not to anger the “no new normal” crowd, but it is a new normal out there. For those of us trying to mitigate risk even after full vaccination for the good of those at home who can’t yet be protected that way, it has been a long time since we’ve been together with that many people in one place. It was all done safely, but even so, it requires some mental gymnastics for some of us.
To see familiar faces (a face behind a mask is still a face), to partake in one of life’s great joys (live theatre) and to experience a beautiful event of nature together (a Huron County sunset) must have been emotional for many in attendance. I know it was for me.
And to know that it all started with an idea - the repurposing of a former soccer field whose only real patrons had become casual golfers and off-road vehicle drivers - that may have sounded strange to some, makes it that much more special. The Blyth Festival, its financial partners and, yes, even North Huron Council saw potential, thought outside of the box and made the Harvest Stage a reality.
Now, we can all enjoy it and it can be part of our story as we return to life. Kevin Costner may not quite emerge from the trees beyond, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be special.