Blyth Festival season to open next week
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Next week, the Blyth Festival will open its 2022 season, which will include four shows produced at the Harvest Stage from June to the end of September.
This continues the slow and steady march towards a traditional season at the Blyth Festival after the 2020 season was forced into cancellation and the 2021 season included five, one-person shows, all produced at the new Harvest Stage.
Currently, there are no plans for indoor productions at Memorial Hall, though the box office is open for the season and the Blyth Festival Art Gallery is producing a season-long community art show in the Bainton Gallery.
This season, the Festival will be producing The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey, Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor, The Waltz by Marie Beath Badian and John Ware Reimagined by Cheryl Foggo.
First up is a remount of The Drawer Boy, one of the most successful Canadian plays ever written, which began its life when the Festival commissioned it.
The show premiered at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1999 and then came to the Blyth Festival in 2000. Michael Healey’s play stars just three people and it tells the story of a young actor from Toronto making his way to Huron County to conduct research for a collective play about farming, inspired by Paul Thompson’s iconic The Farm Show, a watershed moment for Canadian theatre that led to the creation of the Blyth Festival.
When The Drawer Boy was first produced at the Blyth Festival, Artistic Director Gil Garratt was one of the stars, playing a fictionalized version of Miles Potter, well-known theatre director and a member of the collective that created The Farm Show.
With his history with the show and its importance to the Blyth Festival, in the year The Farm Show marks its 50th anniversary, Garratt felt it was important for him to direct The Drawer Boy.
He says that having the show at the Festival this year is a beautiful way to pay tribute to The Farm Show, The Drawer Boy and the artists who made the Blyth Festival possible, including the late David Fox, the man who first played Angus in The Drawer Boy, who passed away late last year.
Producing the show on the Harvest Stage, with its farming elements and references to the night sky, Garratt said, will be a special aspect to this production.
The show is a great testament to an idea on which the Festival has built its foundation, that not only can theatre change a community, but that a community can change theatre actors, which is what happened with The Farm Show and has continued to happen over several decades with the Blyth Festival.
He said the lives of the actors that created The Farm Show were changed forever as a result of that experience and that’s something The Drawer Boy does a great job of capturing.
Garratt says he hopes to get creative with some aspects of the show and use the Harvest Stage to its full potential for a creative approach to telling the story. That includes bringing on Anne Lederman and Graham Hargrove to provide live music for the show at every performance.
The Drawer Boy has two preview performances on June 22 and 23. It premieres on Friday, June 24 and runs until Saturday, July 16.
The second show, Cottagers and Indians, comes to the Festival courtesy of Drew Hayden Taylor, a celebrated Canadian playwright whose The Berlin Blues was produced in Blyth in 2017.
Garratt says the show is very funny and it tackles the collision between environmentalism and consumerism with the wit for which Taylor is known, telling the story of cottagers and an Indigenous community working to live next to one another.
Taylor was inspired to write the show after observing a real-life conflict between a cottager and an Indigenous resident in the Kawarthas. The Indigenous residents wanted to reintroduce wild rice to the waterways and cottagers protested for a variety of reasons, Garratt said, leading to a number of very heated community meetings between the two sides.
Cottagers and Indians begins with preview performances on July 21 and 22 and premieres on Saturday, July 23 before closing on Saturday, Aug. 6.
The third show, The Waltz, is written by Marie Beath Badian and it’s the sequel to her renowned Prairie Nurse, which premiered at the Festival in 2013. The Waltz is the second show of an intergenerational trilogy within the same universe, or “The Prairie-verse” as one of Badian’s friends has called it, which concludes with The Cottage Guest.
This is another show commissioned by the Festival and Badian says it’s going to be at home on the Harvest Stage, as the entire show takes place on a deck under the Saskatchewan night sky.
Garratt said it’s really special for the Festival to be a part of telling another chapter of the story. He recalled a conversation with Badian after the success of Prairie Nurse in which she said she felt there was more to the story, with as many as two more plays that she could write, working up to the current day. She just said she didn’t know which one she would write first.
She began work on The Waltz, then stepped away from it and completed The Cottage Guest, coming back and finishing The Waltz afterwards.
In an interview with The Citizen last year, Badian said she had hoped the play could be produced outdoors on the Harvest Stage (though it will also be produced this year at Toronto’s Factory Theatre indoors as well) and now she’s got her wish.
Garratt said that it’s inspiring for the Festival to be able to be a part of telling a continuing story like this, saying that the story mirrors his professional relationship with Badian, which dates back to the turn of the century when they were both young and starting their careers with the Blyth Festival.
The Waltz begins with two preview performances on Aug. 11 and 12. It premieres on Saturday, Aug. 13 and then closes on Saturday, Aug. 27.
The final show of the year, John Ware Reimagined, represents a great opportunity to have a uniquely Canadian story and some great roots music on the Harvest Stage, Garratt said.
Cheryl Foggo, who co-wrote 2012’s The Devil We Know, has written the piece after creating a shorter version for the stage and then a documentary that was made possible by the National Film Board of Canada.
Growing up in western Canada and a fan of cowboy culture, Foggo couldn’t find any Black icons in that world and she wondered why, Garratt said. However, once she started digging, she found a rich Black cowboy culture in that part of the world, beginning with Ware. However, as she would learn, he was really just the tip of the iceberg.
Garratt said the show really fits with one of the goals for the Harvest Stage, which was for it to play host to music.
The show, Garratt said, is a real testament to understanding history and rethinking our place in the world.
John Ware Reimagined hits the stage with two preview performances on Sept. 1 and 2, followed by its premiere on Saturday, Sept. 3. The show then closes on Saturday, Sept. 24.
For more information, a full schedule or to buy tickets, visit blythfestival.com.