Blyth Festival welcomes back McIntosh in new 'tailored' role
BY DENNY SCOTT
After working on numerous Blyth Festival plays over the years, Kelly McIntosh is returning to Blyth to a full-time, permanent position at the theatre that she feels is tailor-made for her.
McIntosh will be plying both her experience on the creative side of theatre and her experience with heritage administration to fulfill a dual role of audience development co-ordinator and artistic associate.
“I’m pinching myself because I’m so happy,” she said. “I must be one of the few people in the country with a role tailor-made for them.”
McIntosh has a long history with the Festival and with its Artistic Director Gil Garratt, as the two first came to the Festival and Huron County to work on Death of the Hired Man with Paul Thompson, which focused on how farming changed in the 1950s with the advent of combines.
“Gil and I had a real ‘Farm Show’ experience together,” she said, referring to the fact that actors in The Farm Show, a production that proved to be the precursor to the Blyth Festival, spent time researching their roles by living on local farms. “We came up as younger actors and Paul Thompson had us go to a farm where they were running things in the ‘old school way’, stooking the fields and using a Lobsinger thresher in the barn.”
She said she, Gil, and the other actors spent a day on the farm picking up stooks and using the machine. While she doesn’t remember much of the specifics, she remembers it was dusty and they were fed incredibly well by the farm’s owners.
“We all got to know the subject material that we were working on,” she said. “The play was about the days the community would come to a farm and help thresh grain.”
The show was a collective, she said, which have been a staple of the Blyth Festival since its inception, and proved to be a magical experience McIntosh said, as it premiered around the time of the annual reunion of the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association.
“I really understood, thanks to that, the magic of doing a play about people’s lives and how exciting it is to be on that stage,” she said.
After that, she was “hooked” on the Blyth experience, and came back to be a part of The Outdoor Donnellys for two years, and some others, but then was away from the Blyth Festival for years before returning for In the Wake of Wettlaufer, which she and Garratt penned for the 2019 season.
Since then, she and Garratt were supposed to produce another show in 2020, however COVID-19 derailed those plans, as it did with the plans to perform In The Wake of Wettlaufer at the Grand Theatre in London that same year.
However, McIntosh believes that, because of those collaborations, Garratt knew they would work well together, which led to her being offered the position.
The career opportunity offers her a unique chance to have the kind of life she wants right now, saying that, having an 11-year-old daughter, MadeNell, being able to have a full-time permanent position and not “flying all over” to different acting jobs is exactly what she wanted.
McIntosh lives in Stratford and, previously, worked at the Stratford Perth Museum for four years as membership co-ordinator. She said the skills she honed there will serve her well in her new position at the Blyth Festival.
Her very presence in Stratford, McIntosh said, is tied to the Blyth Festival as she moved to Stratford several years ago hoping she would be able to return to Blyth.
She is also excited about working in Blyth because she feels that Garratt has a unique ability to find local stories that need to be told so they can be discussed, similar to Thompson, she said.
However, while she looks forward to being involved in the artistic side of her job, right now she said her primary objective is to support Director of Audience Development and Services Jennifer Lamb.
“We have to continue with outreach and fundraising,” she said. “We have to keep all the members happy that [the Festival staff have] phenomenally gained during the pandemic with [fewer] or no shows in the past two years. That’s really the primary focus of my job.”
She said she will also be working to get to know the community and keep connecting with members.
“I know the main objective in a not-for-profit, especially in a cultural space, is to get people to feel comfortable, safe and ready to come back,” she said.
Working in a more artistic role alongside Garratt is a bonus, she said, and she hopes to be able to help him with projects going forward.
McIntosh will also be bringing a wealth of outdoor theatre experience to the role, which is important given the creation of the Harvest Stage, which allowed the Blyth Festival to put on shows last year despite the pandemic.
When Garratt first approached her about the position, she was actually working at Caravan Farm Theatre in British Columbia, an “exceptional” outdoor theatre company, she said.
The theatre is set on an 88-acre farm and every show includes the Clydesdales that live there.
“I just did an outdoor winter show there,” she said, acknowledging that’s made possible by the different climate in British Columbia.
McIntosh said that experience may have played a part in Garratt reaching out to her, but also said that Blyth Festival patrons are no stranger to outdoor shows.
“I think the fact that Gil and I spent so much time with The Outdoor Donnellys that it felt like, back then, the Blyth Festival was an outdoor theatre,” she said. “It was such a powerful experience and so many people came.”
McIntosh said she is excited to work to put shows on the Harvest Stage, adding she feels that it’s an incredible outdoor space.