Blyth Festival Harvest Stage bearing fruit after first show closes
BY DENNY SCOTT
With Café Daughter opening on the Blyth Festival’s Harvest Stage, the 2021 Festival season is well underway thanks to the new outdoor space, and it’s been a success so far says Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt.
In an interview with The Citizen earlier this week, Garratt said that everything went well for the season-opening show, Sheryl Scott’s The Downs and that he was very happy to welcome theatre-goers.
“The first show was really gratifying,” he said. “It was just so incredible to have the first show back and bring Sheryl’s show back to life on that stage. It really was phenomenal. Everyone we talked to was just so moved and so touched to come back together and have that shared experience.”
While it was great to have the show performed, Garratt said there were a few unforeseen challenges before and during the run of the show.
“We didn’t have in our minds, originally, that we’d still be doing construction on the Wednesday morning of the preview show,” he said. “Initially we thought we’d be done a couple weeks earlier and have time to kick the tires, but the reality of construction in the pandemic changed that.”
The delay, he said, meant the Festival’s staff and the show’s cast and crew had to hit the ground running.
Garratt also said there have been some discoveries along the way in regards to what it really means to hold an outdoor matinee in a Southwestern Ontario heat wave.
“It’s really not feasible,” he said. “We really had to rethink some of that.”
The big challenges, he said, were just further steps toward making the dream a reality and making sure the stage and shows were “functional for the artists” and “comfortable for the audience”.
Despite the challenges, Garratt said, he doesn’t think anything could have been done differently.
“Getting where we are has been a tremendous amount of uphill work, with an incredible community push from behind,” he said. “If we were doing it again, we would do it the same. The challenges we have discovered are things we can adapt to.”
He said those adaptations are going to proceed, saying that some mature shade trees are being considered to be planted around the stage, which should make a big difference for not only this year, but for years to come.
There have been some pleasant surprises along the way, Garratt said, pointing specifically to this past weekend when the natural amphitheatre made it possible for the Festival’s shows to proceed, despite a baseball tournament being played on the diamonds elsewhere on the grounds.
“The best test was this weekend where there was a ball tournament on Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “There were folks camping at the campground and baseball on both diamonds. There were 22 different teams and everyone got along so well.
“We didn’t have any noise bleed from the tournament to the theatre, and we didn’t impact the baseball players as they were able to enjoy their game to the fullest,” he said. “To me, it’s the perfect example of how we can all work together.”
Garratt went on to say he imagines many municipalities wish they could have these kinds of activities at their local fairgrounds.
As for the future, Garratt said one change he hopes to make is having permanent seating at the outdoor stage in time for next year’s season.
“That’s one very particular challenge tied to COVID-19, is we have to set up new seating every performance based on who is coming,” he said. “That’s a lot of extra pressure on house management.”
He said he hopes that hosting larger performances with more artists next year will prove that the Harvest Stage can be a vital part of the Blyth Festival year after year, even outside the pandemic.
For more information, visit blythfestival.com.