Blyth Festival faces challenges, found successes in 2022: Garratt
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
While the 2022 Blyth Festival season was not without its challenges, Artistic Director Gil Garratt says he’s proud of what the Festival was able to accomplish and he’s looking forward to a big year in 2023.
The season went ahead entirely outdoors, at the Harvest Stage, located at the northwest corner of the Blyth Campground. Three of the four scheduled productions had full runs or better, while Marie Beath Badian’s The Waltz, the third show of the season, had to be cancelled due to illness within the company and lost preparation time.
This came after the 2021 season, which included five one-person shows, all produced outdoors on the Harvest Stage, which Garratt says was a miracle in itself. The focus in 2021, he said, was really on the basics of storytelling, with the Festival accomplishing what it did with a skeleton crew. He says that, after being able to produce a season at a time when the majority of theatres weren’t able to do so, it was nice to expand the Festival’s offerings this year.
While the season remained outside, Garratt said the Festival was able to scale up its productions with full casts and higher production values at the Harvest Stage, bringing in musicians for two of the three shows. That can be said for even the light and sound design of the shows, he said.
Beginning the season with The Drawer Boy, a show near and dear to his heart, was a special experience, Garratt said. Having it outdoors, under the night sky, with the ability to see the second floor of the house and a real tractor made for a unique theatre experience, Garratt said. Playwright Michael Healey backed this up, Garratt said, when he came and saw the play, comparing it to seeing the “little, tiny” farmhouse in the centre of the stage when the play was produced at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre.
The second show of the season, Drew Hayden Taylor’s Cottagers and Indians, was another wonderful addition to the season, Garratt said, that not only entertained audiences, but pushed them as well.
The fact that the Festival was able to add some performances was a boon for the Festival, Garratt said.
Garratt says he was also proud of being able to use original artwork produced by an artist he met from Kettle and Stony Point when the Festival was working to produce Ipperwash years ago. The prints were produced at Blyth Printing and Garratt said that Ken Whitmore and Steve Dawe from Blyth Printing visited the stage one day and were blown away by how the art looked on the set.
As for John Ware Reimagined, the final show of the season, Garratt said it was a magical production and it was nice to bring a band in to produce music for the show as well.
He said the show was so original and the inclusion of roots music that sounded great in the natural amphitheatre of the Harvest Stage really capped off the experience.
As for The Waltz, Garratt said that all of the members of the cast and crew have since recovered from their illness during the rehearsal period, which is good news, but that cancellations like the one the Festival had to announce are sure to become more commonplace with COVID-19 continuing to circulate.
He said the Festival is planning to make it part of the 2023 season after it premieres at Toronto’s Factory Theatre later this year, but that has yet to be confirmed.
Garratt said the Festival staff is still in the midst of planning for next year’s season, which will be presented to the board of directors for approval later this year and announced thereafter.
While nothing has been finalized, he says he’s hoping the Festival can produce shows both at the Harvest Stage and Memorial Hall in what he says will be a “substantial” season. He added that, if all goes according to plan, he and his team are hoping to bring something very big to the Harvest Stage in 2023 that is sure to interest audience members from both far and wide.