Time to pull in the same direction - Denny Scott editorial
Every year (save 2020, but maybe we can all agree to just kind of forget that year when we’re talking about annual events) the editorial department at The Citizen puts our heads together for the annual Blyth Festival Edition in which we shine a spotlight on some of the folks that make that year’s season a reality.
We traditionally interview people from every part of the Festival including administration, the technical department, the design department and, of course, the playwrights, directors and actors behind each of the plays. Traditionally, with plays being run in repertory (different plays being run simultaneously on the same stage but in different time slots) we interview two groups of actors and actresses, one for each ongoing show. Those groups are usually responsible for two plays each at different points in the summer.
In 2021 and this year, however, things changed a little bit with COVID-19. The Blyth Festival went away from the repertory practice as a defense mechanism against COVID-19. With smaller casts for each play, and no crossover between plays, an outbreak wouldn’t mean the end of the season, just the end of one run of plays. It’s a wise move, and really no other decision could be made, but it did change the landscape of Blyth last year and will do so again this year.
The interviews I conducted with actors, directors and playwrights were split down the middle with people both new to Blyth and those who had taken to the stage before, so when I asked the question, how does it feel entering a season that isn’t run in repertory, some had a frame of reference to draw upon and with which to compare experiences with while the others had only stories of how magical a place Blyth can be.
The growing consensus is that things won’t be the same and the true Blyth experience (which has been described as a giant family get together by some past cast and crew or a grown-up version of summer camp by others) will have to wait another year.
They’re right, of course: the 2021 and 2022 seasons mark a departure from the norm, a norm to which people are anxious to get back to.
And when I say people, I don’t just mean the cast, crew and administration of the Blyth Festival but everyone impacted by it including the theatregoers and the businesses downtown that cater to them.
This isn’t a critique of the Festival’s decision to continue holding outdoor shows for safety’s sake. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. The safest way to have people gather, especially as many people as are needed to make the Festival’s season successful, is to do it outside. Having even a half-capacity memorial hall of nearly 200 people could still be devastating if a COVID-19 outbreak were to happen (or monkeypox for that matter). It would tax the local healthcare system, Huron Perth Public Health and could have a dire impact on the Festival itself, which is an important economic driver for Blyth.
So while the Blyth Festival is working hard to come up with ways to push on, Blyth, like every other small town, needs to come up with ways to not only encourage theatregoers to come downtown, but also to make sure we support our local businesses that would normally see an influx of customers thanks to the shows at Memorial Hall.
It’s on each of us to buy what we can, use services where we can and encourage people to go to local businesses as often as we can.
While the news out of Toronto and Ottawa has been that recovery has been going as planned, even the businesses that have bounced back the quickest still have a year and a half to two and a half years worth of lean times to recover from, and that’s assuming the lean times are over.
So go to that local restaurant, get your beauty treatments at the local salons and spas (unless you’re like me and you just buzz your hair at home) and find those unique treasures at local shops when it comes time to buy gifts because we all need to be pulling in the same way to not just recover from COVID-19, but weather these odd times afterwards where people still have justifiable trepidation about being out in public and shopping in person.