Blyth Festival moves ahead with four-show outdoor season this summer
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Blyth Festival is returning to full-scale productions in 2022 with a four-show season expected to be produced entirely on the company’s new outdoor Harvest Stage.
The Festival is seeking to build upon the success of last year’s season at the Harvest Stage, which consisted of five, one-person shows produced in two-week runs. According to Artistic Director Gil Garratt, the Festival is still hoping to add indoor shows at Memorial Hall in the late summer or early fall, but those plans are dependent on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and have yet to be finalized.
Garratt, in an interview with The Citizen, said that with COVID-19 still very much a factor in life in Huron County, hosting the season outdoors in the safest possible manner made the most sense from a long-term planning perspective. He said that while nothing has been confirmed, he’s hoping the Festival will be able to welcome more patrons to the Harvest Stage this season, but that will depend on a number of factors.
He also noted that, with a full season under the Festival’s belt at the Harvest Stage, they plan to make a number of improvements to the space for this summer.
The season will begin with an anniversary celebration of sorts with a remount of The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey, one of the most celebrated plays in Canadian history and a Blyth Festival commission that would premiere at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille and spawn an award-winning film just a few years ago.
Healey’s fictional retelling of the creation of The Farm Show has received international renown and was on the Blyth Festival stage in 2000 and 2002 with Garratt playing the role of Miles, a young actor living on a Clinton-area farm conducting research for the play.
Now, Cameron Laurie, a Huron County native with several Festival credits to his name, will fill the role of Miles. An interview with the Young Company alumnus is featured in the Festival’s newsletter, which was sent out to members last week.
This June will mark the 50th anniversary of the first performance of The Farm Show at Ray Bird’s barn near Clinton. The collective creation of the show, under the direction of Paul Thompson, was a watershed moment for Canadian theatre and led to the creation of the Blyth Festival, inspiring founders James Roy, Anne Chislett and Keith Roulston.
Not only will the show mark that anniversary, but Garratt also hopes it will honour the legacy of the late David Fox, who passed away last year. Fox, a Farm Show co-creator himself, originated The Drawer Boy role of Angus. He also felt the show would honour the legacy of Jerry Franken, a Festival regular who passed away in 2016, who was also in the original production of The Drawer Boy.
Garratt said having the show under the Huron County sky will bring a new perspective to the show and he thinks it’s a brilliant fit for the production.
In addition, Garratt said there will be live music to score the production, courtesy of Anne Lederman of the 2004 Festival production of Spirit of the Narrows and Graham Hargrove of 2019’s A Huron County Christmas Carol.
The Drawer Boy will open the season, running from June 22 to July 16. The two-act show will feature a single intermission.
The season’s second show is Cottagers and Indians by celebrated Indigenous playwright Drew Hayden Taylor, whose work was last featured at the Blyth Festival in 2017 with The Berlin Blues.
Garratt says the comedy about a land claims conflict premiered in 2019 and was ready to be featured in theatres across the country before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the theatre world in its tracks.
He says the show is funny and smart and innovative in the way that it’s presented. With both characters on either side of the conflict on stage the entire show, Garratt said, the story is told in a unique way that includes interactions between the characters, as well as them directly addressing the audience at times as well.
He said it’s an interesting approach to a topic that is at the forefront of many discussions happening in the country today.
Cottagers and Indians is one act without an intermission and it runs from July 21 to Aug. 6.
The third show is The Waltz from Marie Beath Badian, who is no stranger to the Blyth Festival. The show is the sequel to her 2013 Festival production of Prairie Nurse and the second show in a trilogy surrounding those characters.
Badian began writing the third and final show, The Cottage Guest, after Prairie Nurse, but became sidetracked and enamored with The Waltz and finished it before she was able to close out The Cottage Guest. Prairie Nurse was set in the 1960s, with The Waltz set to take place in the early 1990s. The Cottage Guest will be set just a few years ago in 2017.
Badian says The Waltz is meant to be produced outdoors under the night sky, so it will be a perfect fit for the Festival’s Harvest Stage.
Badian’s history with the Festival stretches nearly two decades, as she directed the Young Company for two years in the early 2000s before acting in 2006’s Schoolhouse and directing 2007’s Reverend Jonah.
Garratt said he loves the show and Badian called it a romance that she hopes will sweep up audiences.
The Waltz is a one-act show and it runs from Aug. 11-27.
The final show of the year is Cheryl Foggo’s John Ware Reimagined, which features music by Miranda Martini and Kris Demeanor. Foggo’s work was last featured in Blyth in 2012 when The Devil We Know was produced at the Festival, co-written by Foggo and Clem Martini.
Garratt said the show is about personal exploration and history and will appeal to those who enjoyed Bruce Horak’s Assassinating Thomson at the Harvest Stage last year.
The play will address the legend of John Ware, a Black Canadian cowboy living in Alberta in the 1880s, and the many stories of other Black cowboys in the country at that time. The play builds on Foggo’s 2020 National Film Board of Canada documentary, John Ware Reclaimed.
John Ware Reimagined will close the Festival season with performances from Sept. 1-24. It is two acts with one intermission.
Blyth Festival Members can begin booking tickets on March 7 at 9 a.m. by phone. For more information, visit the Festival website at blythfestival.com.