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Blyth Festival’s season opener challenges “Life”

2 Jul
David Fox and Severn Thompson in Seeds at the Blyth Festival. Photo by Terry Manzo for the Blyth Festival

David Fox and Severn Thompson in Seeds at the Blyth Festival. Photo by Terry Manzo for the Blyth Festival

By Diva Karen Stewart

The Blyth Festival is one of my most favourite places to visit and last Friday night was no exception. It was the Opening of the festival’s 41st season.

StrawberryPieAs is typical on the grand Opening, avid theatre fans and major sponsors gather for a Gala Dinner. This year, as has been a tradition for many now, the Legion Ladies Auxiliary served a bountiful country-style roast beef dinner. And, I was happy to see the lip-smacking fresh strawberry pie for dessert. It was as delicious as I expected it to be. And … more importantly, guests at my table were delightful company with which to enjoy a repast.

Following dinner, Artistic Director Gil Garratt addressed those gathered, expressing how he feels a responsibility to speak to a “modern” and savvy rural audience through his programming choices. He noted how a successful farmer might be checking international markets on his smart phone, using high tech equipment in his barn or operating machinery with GIS installed systems, and all-the-while working thousands of acres of land or raising hundreds of heads of livestock. Garrett called his relationship with the audience a “long conversation.”

Garratt introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Mark Crawford. Crawford’s successful play – Stag and Doe, which premiered at Blyth in 2014, is currently enjoying seven independent productions in theatres across Canada. This seemingly “instant” success is rare with a new play, but carries a tradition of plays developed and premiering on the Blyth stage that have a life beyond Blyth and confirming that “our” stories are universal in appeal and relevance.

Crawford shared that he was most struck by the relationship between the artists, the art and the audience at Blyth.

“What are we buying when we buy tickets, volunteer, or sponsor at this theatre?” he challenged. His answer: “our communities’ struggles, its hopes, its dreams, ourselves.”   He called the reciprocal agreement or relationship a sacred covenant between the artists and the audience. He told us how he likened new play development to Lammas Day – an August 1st Anglo-Saxon Festival of the Wheat Harvest celebration. Like the wheat, a play is not worth anything until you harvest it, or – in the case of a play – it’s seen by an audience. It may read nice on paper, but it’s not doing what it’s supposed to until an audience sees it. And he added that, like the wheat, the play has the ability to “nourish and feed your community”. He talked about a vulnerability in talking about art in an open-minded, national context and that we must continue to “celebrate, champion and hold-on-for-dear-life that Blyth Festival makes us all better.”

Following dinner, we were led by piper Jeff Wise on the short walk down to the theatre in Blyth Memorial Community Hall. The Opening Night production was the docudrama Seeds by Annabel Soutar. Although not a new play, this was a new production that embraced new technologies in its telling of a modern, true-life farming story.

Seeds opens with a thought-provoking question – “What is Life” – and thereafter follows the story of Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan-based canola farmer, who takes on Monsanto, an agricultural bio-tech firm that licenses crop protection chemicals and seeds to farmers worldwide. Monsanto sues Schmeiser for illegally growing genetically modified seeds on his land.   Schmeiser claims the seeds blew onto his land and that he didn’t plant them at all, taking it further in fact to admit he knew very little about genetically modified processes and practices. The supreme court sides with Monsanto with deep implications and questions of the power of “life being created in a test tube”. And if “life” can be patented, who’s responsible for those who act in an unpredictable ways?

Director Kim Collier skillfully orchestrated through the mound of complicated content to guide this production in a way that had me, at times, sympathetic to both sides of the issue.

The cast of Seeds, led by one of Canada’s finest actors, David Fox, was stellar. Co-star Jason Chesworth says it best, “If you haven’t seen David Fox on stage before, you should book your tickets now. David’s portrayal of Percy Schmeiser is a beautiful thing to behold. What he can do with a moment of silence is always so compelling. Riveting.”

Equally strong was veteran actor, Severn Thompson, who played a young playwright adamant about finding the truth. She was curious and vulnerable as she guided the audience through the complexities of this true-life case.

The supporting cast – Keith Barker, Rachel Cairns, Jason Chesworth, Jeff Irving and Tracey Ferencz – ably played multiple roles including lawyers, scientists, and family – including Schmeiser’s quirky wife, Louise.

The set designed by Steve Lucas integrated a seemingly simple backdrop and moveable pieces that worked as lab desks, court tables or the kitchen table. (I say “seemingly” as my experience is that technically that’s not always the case.) Digital technology projections on the backdrop were used to quickly change the setting from the farm to a high-tech lab, a courtroom and other sites as the script demanded.   It worked, although personally I find rolling set pieces do get distracting and in this hugely complex production there were a lot of (necessary) scene changes. Contemporary costumes were designed by Karyn McCallum, lighting and projections were designed by Beth Kates for Playground Studios Inc.

The stage management team included Crystal MacDonnell and Christina Cicko.

As I mentioned the content of this play is complex and the volume of information shared begs a second viewing from this theatre fan.

It’s asks some important questions for us to ponder about the safety of our food supply and our need to increase yields at the expense of “life”.

Challenging, informative, and most of all entertaining, Seeds plays in repertory at the Blyth Festival until Aug. 8th.


 

Blyth Festival Box Office

Location: 423 Queen St., Blyth

 

Phone: 519-523-9600

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on show nights)

Website: www.blythfestival.com

Tickets: Adults: regular $30, preferred $34; Preview: regular $22, preferred $26; Youth: regular $15, preferred $15.

piper

What to do on rainy day in Goderich: Paint the Lake

22 Jun
Artists immerse themselves in the process.

Artists immerse themselves in the process.


By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – You’ve make the trip to Lake Huron and have grand plans to spend endless hours lying on the beach, reading a good book, maybe napping for a bit, walking over to The Beach Station restaurant for a bite to eat, and taking a dip in the refreshing waters.

Then it rains. And it’s not looking like there’s any end in sight.

What to do? Head on over to Elizabeth’s Art Gallery in Goderich and paint the lake instead.

At right, Elizabeth Van Den Broeck gives an assignment to the aspiring artists.

At right, Elizabeth Van Den Broeck gives an assignment to the aspiring artists.

In this new program, aspiring artists are given a blank canvas, apron, selection of brushes and choice of acrylic paints to create a masterpiece in two hours, under the skillful direction of artist Elizabeth Van Den Broeck.

Even if you’re not an aspiring artist, it’s still well worth the experience.

In the very first class, about 10 of us – including Solo Traveller blogger Janice Waugh – chose a photo taken along the lake and used it as a reference for a painting. I chose a photo of the front of a boat that was moored in murky green water. It reminded me of a painting from the recent Alex Colville exhibit at the AGO, in which he took an aerial perspective of a woman climbing a ladder from a small motorboat to dockside, while a man sat on the dock, his feet dangling over its side.

As Elizabeth helped to squirt blobs of paint on our Styrofoam plates that would serve as palattes, she warned, “There’s only one rule. No Jackson Pollocks. No splatter painting.” (Pollock was an American painter whose abstract expressionist works look like a frenzied collection of splatters and drips of paint.)

With each brush stroke, an image begins to take shape.

With each brush stroke, an image begins to take shape.

She instructed us to paint the canvas with one colour – whatever colour makes us happy – to break the barrier. I chose orange, using a wide brush to slap on long strokes of the bright colour.

And then I immersed myself in the art.

Around me, I could hear snippets of conversation as I worked.

Block the space so we don’t run out of room on the canvas… Brush strokes are like musical notes, and can be choppy or long… Foreground is the place where all the action takes place… Put energy into your stroke… Get more paint on the brush so those leaves don’t look like little sponges… Don’t worry the paint.

When I finally stepped back, I saw there were gorgeous paintings developing around me – tranquil scenes in delicately defined brush strokes.

paint4Then there was my painting. Bold reds, yellows and blues with streaks of black through them. Broad brush strokes of thick and uneven paint. The resultant work looked more like the “V” of a graduate’s gown than the bow of a boat.

Although my mother would like to hang the painting in her house, it’ll probably land under my bed, where it will gather dust and get damaged by other stuff thrown under there. But that’s okay. What was far more important to me was trying something new, having fun with a group of people, and discovering a bit about myself through the process.


What: Paint the Lake

Where: Elizabeth’s Art Gallery, 54 Courthouse Square, Goderich

When: On rainy days, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. (Groups of four can reserve space anytime.)

How: Just call 519-524-4080 by noon on a rainy day to book your spot.

Cost: $25 per adult, $20 per child. Includes 16×20 canvas and paint. Includes inspiration and instruction.

Collage courtesy of Elizabeth Van Den Broeck.

Collage courtesy of Elizabeth Van Den Broeck.

Diva moved to tears by this memorable performance

18 Jun
Colin Sheen, Danielle Wade and company in Anne of Green Gables,  2015 Season at the Huron Country Playhouse near Grand Bend. Photo credit: Darlene O'Rourke

Colin Sheen, Danielle Wade and company in Anne of Green Gables, 2015 Season at the Huron Country Playhouse near Grand Bend. Photo credit: Darlene O’Rourke

By Diva Caroline Thuss

Watching freckle-faced, red-haired, melodramatic orphan Anne (with an E) brought back so many wonderful memories for me as I attended the engaging opening night performance of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical at the Huron Country Playhouse. This was an excellent choice to open the season as it offers so much for all theatregoers and also holds a special place in the heart of Artistic Director Alex Mustakas, who performed the role of schoolteacher Mr. Phillips in the Charlottetown production back in the 1980s.

Based on the classic Canadian novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables will have you humming and singing (quietly) along to songs like “Ice Cream”, “Gee, I’m Glad I’m No One Else But Me” and “Kindred Spirits”. Danielle Wade (you might remember her from the CBC reality series Over the Rainbow) brings the energy and the spunk needed for the character of Anne and an exceptionally strong voice that brings together all the laughter, frustrations and tears that Anne experiences throughout the musical.

Joining Wade is an extremely talented cast composed of Susan Gilmour (Marilla Cuthbert), Ted Simonett (Matthew Cuthbert) who really add heart and comedy to the production as they play off each other with friendly banter.  Jade Repeta as Diana Berry, Anne’s best friend, and Colin Sheen as the rival Gilbert Blythe steal the show at certain points. When Diana joins Anne for afternoon tea that includes what is thought to be raspberry cordial, it turns into what has to be one of the most comical scenes. As Diana downs the bottle leaving Anne to deal with her strange behaviour.  I am sure many of us have had to deal with a friend like that at one point in time. When Blythe puts the frog down Anne’s dress and, along with the rest of the male chorus, imitate all of Anne’s jerky moves as she tried to get the frog out, that it is impossible not to laugh a good belly laugh.  Wade and Sheen are able to capture the many frustrations that school-aged pre-teens and teens have with each other and I swear that I remember feeling the same frustration when I was young that Wade’s Anne does to Gilbert’s teasing and silly behaviour. The choreography that accompanies the great egg-on-spoon race at the church picnic was high energy and defied all the laws of gravity.

One song, sung by Simonett towards the end of the performance, brought many members of the audience to tears (including me) as you could truly see the beautiful relationship that his character developed with Anne.

The creative team under the direction of Max Reimer, has create a performance that is sure to be a winner in the hearts of all theatregoers.  Anne of Green Gables charmed its way into my heart, as I am sure it will for many others. Make sure you get tickets before the show ends its run on June 27th.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

 

School on Wheels was home for travelling school teacher, family

18 Jun
Sloman School on Wheels has a permanent home in Clinton, Ontario.

The School on Wheels Museum  has a permanent home in Clinton, Ontario.

by Diva Karen Stewart

CLINTON – The School on Wheels Museum in Clinton has long been on my list of places to visit. Last Saturday I got my chance and had not only a guided tour but also enjoyed Tea with Toby as well as well over an hour’s one-on-one time with the delightful Toby Sloman Rainey.

Museum staff, Carolyn Brophy, shows me one mode of communication implemented by the Sloman’s on the train. A note would be attached to this switch that would be grabbed by someone on a passing train. It may be a simple grocery list. The switch was dropped on the ground and one of the students would run down the track to retrieve it.  Then, on a return train, the product(s) would be delivered.

Museum staff, Carolyn Brophy, shows me one mode of communication implemented by the Sloman’s on the train. A note would be attached to this switch that would be grabbed by someone on a passing train. It may be a simple grocery list. The switch was dropped on the ground and one of the students would run down the track to retrieve it. Then, on a return train, the product(s) would be delivered.

Standing in Sloman Memorial Park is the original 100-year-old wooden train car that the Sloman’s lived in for most of the 39 years that Toby’s father, Fred, brought an education to the children living in isolated areas of Northern Ontario.

Toby is the youngest daughter of Fred and Cela Sloman. At 77 she’s spunky and committed to creating a lasting tribute to her family’s heritage. Toby shared plans to hopefully one day build an interpretive centre on the grounds and perhaps develop a professional flower garden on the extensive property. There is hope of also building a covering above the rail car to protect it from the elements.

During Tea with Toby, she talked about life on the railcar, which seems quite extraordinary to me, but was just the way it was for her – a young child who didn’t know anything different. She, and her twin brother, William, were the youngest of the Sloman family, which also included older sisters Liz, Margaret and Joan. The children were all taught in the school car by their father until Grade 12. Then, each was boarded in Clinton to attend their 13th year at the Clinton High School in order to prepare them for their post-secondary studies. Toby did take a number of correspondence courses when they became available starting in Grade 10 year, and she recalls complete culture shock while attending Grade 13 in Clinton. As a young woman who loved to spend most of her time in the bushes of Northern Ontario (with her brother) she found it odd that “she wasn’t to speak to the boys” at the school – “protocol” of jealous teen girls at the time. She said she felt like a lone fish.

Two sets of bunk beds and a trundle bed that doubled as a sofa made compact living space but room for everyone.  The sofa is not the original.

Two sets of bunk beds and a trundle bed that doubled as a sofa made compact living space but room for everyone. The sofa is not the original.

The audience asked questions about pets, and the children (they had cats and dogs and at one time a pet skunk, Petunia). I was surprised to discover that the children being taught were mostly of Italian origin as I had expected them to be First Nations. Toby had friends in each community and she feels her family was treated like royalty all along the track.

Religion was not a significant part of their weekly rituals but the family did attend the Anglican Church in Clinton during summer breaks. And she talked about her dad as the teacher – he dressed in a shirt and tie, as that was expected of teachers by the Ontario Department of Education. She suspects he was the only person seen to wear a tie by some of the folks in the communities they visited.

The Sloman route is shown on the right side of this map. They were part of a system that ran over 4,500 miles of track through Northern Ontario.

The Sloman route is shown on the right side of this map. They were part of a system that ran over 4,500 miles of track through Northern Ontario.

It’s clear Toby adored her father. She admits she now understands his choices and commitment to this lifestyle was both courageous and extraordinary (when she was younger he was just ‘dad’).

There was no television. There was no radio. In the evening Toby remembers men of the community coming to the railcar for poker games. Christmas and Easter were big in each of the communities they visited so the celebrations were a month long.   Sometimes movies were shown when the projector was run off a car battery. Personally, Toby read a lot and – to this day – doesn’t remember ever being bored.

The compact kitchen where Cela Sloman prepared meals for her family of five while travelling the rails in Northern Ontario - every year, for 39 years - from September through June.  Imagine how creative she must have been!

The compact kitchen where Cela Sloman prepared meals for her family of five while travelling the rails in Northern Ontario – every year, for 39 years – from September through June. Imagine how creative she must have been!

We talked about arts and culture in the region and the importance of sharing our collective stories.   Years ago the Blyth Festival premiered the Sloman’s story in Fires in the Night by Carol Sinclair. I remember opening night when the playwright presented Cela Sloman with a bouquet of flowers. I didn’t think that standing ovation was ever going to end. Toby remembered that too.

This heritage museum has educational, railway and historic significance.   They host special events and activities. This summer they’re highlighting Games and Toys of the Past including a special day this Saturday – June 20.   The Bayfield, Clinton and Vanastra Lions will be hosting a Steak Bingo from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and there will be games and a scavenger hunt on the property from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Collectors have donated toys and games and the museum will have a special display on site.   I highly recommend you gather your children or grandchildren to visit the School on Wheels. You won’t be disappointed.


 

Open: Victoria Day to last weekend in September, Thursday through Sunday and Holiday Mondays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Location: 76 Victoria Terrace, just West of Hwy #4, Clinton, ON N0M 1L0

Contact: 519-482-3997

Cost: Admission is by Donation.

sloman6

Sexy Laundry: A mid-life attempt to rekindle romance

12 Jun
Gabrielle Jones and Sheldon Davis in Sexy Laundry, Huron Country Playhouse II, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O'Rourke

Gabrielle Jones and Sheldon Davis in Sexy Laundry, Huron Country Playhouse II, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke

By Diva Christine Harris

I was pleased to be one of the lucky Divas assigned to check out one of the plays at Huron Country Playhouse.

Last year I went to see a British farce called Look, No Hans at Playhouse II, and the classic Les Miserables on the Mainstage.

This theatre truly is a gem in our backyards, with outstanding performances and great ticket prices. I was given a warm welcome by the staff at the box office and offered VIP cards that treated my date and me to refreshments after the show. This year the Playhouse is celebrating its 44th season and is enjoying the new addition of a beautiful large gazebo at the front of the property. General Manager, Peter Black has invited us to picnic there before seeing one of the shows. In the crowd were special guests during opening night, South Huron Mayor Maureen Cole and Deputy Mayor David Frayne. After the show as with any opening night, we are invited for a luncheon and to meet the cast.

I have to say, this is probably the funniest show I have seen yet! With a packed crowd, there were lots of laughs and even a few gasps of surprise! I can tell you a little bit about the show, but I don’t want to give it away because you really need to see it for yourselves. This Canadian comedy, written by Vancouver’s own Michele Riml is about a couple that has been married for 25 years. Henry, played by Sheldon Davis, and Alice, played by Gabrielle Jones, are getting away for the weekend in a swanky hotel to try to reignite the flame that is their marriage. Armed with the book “Sex for Dummies” Alice is determined to spend the weekend spicing up their love life, and Henry keeps getting distracted by the cost of the hotel and all of its additional amenities. The constant banter back and forth between the couple had the audience in stitches, Alice always having to be right and Henry being reluctant to try new things. It makes them evaluate where their marriage has gone in those 25 years, and how they’ve changed throughout the years.

Regular performance tickets are $42 for adults; $25 for youths under 20 (although this show is not recommended for children), groups of 20 or more are $34. Sexy Laundry runs until June 27th. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Huron County Playhouse, online a or by calling the Box Office at (519) 238-6000 or toll free at 1-855-drayton (372-9866).

 

Local photography showcased at Elizabeth’s Art Gallery

12 Jun

DPIpeoplelooking

By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – I’ve had a peek at the favourite memories of about 20 friends and strangers.

One after another, I’ve seen photos of their families, pets, vacations, and everyday life. I’ve seen what’s captured their imagination and what they want to remember. There’s all displayed on the walls of Elizabeth’s Art Gallery, on this opening night of the 11th Annual DPI Photography Exhibition.

Tucked in the corner is a closeup square shot of a man’s hands, tanned and weathered, gently engulfing a woman’s much paler, fisted hands. It’s a photo Barb Lassaline took of two friends. Looming above, just to the left, is a panoramic view from the front of an orange canoe with a paddle at rest over the bow, looking out over the calm waters, which meet a vivid blue sky somewhere in the distance. Sally Walker snapped this one during a visit to a friend’s cottage north of Bobcaygeon. Then there’s a Toronto streetscape with the Red Rocket crossing from the right, a herd of elephants looking into a camera in Tanzania, a quiet shot of Ball’s Bridge over the Maitland River, and a row of colourful cowboy boots lined up for sale.

Since I’m from town, many of the photographers are known to me, and I marvel that they are so talented. Many of the photographers are unknown to me, and I’m just as amazed by the beauty of their work – the stories I’m urged to imagine these images tell. There are composite photos, textured photos and tinted photos; photos where the photographer planned for the shot and photos where the photographer planned how to manipulate the shot on the computer.

It’s inspiring and makes me want to join the DPI Photography Group this fall.

The DPI Photography Group consists of photographers of all ages and ability levels who meet at the Gallery the second Thursday

Sally Walker gives a hand to Marilyn Potter, as she takes photos of her unique photography printed on purses.

Sally Walker gives a hand to Marilyn Potter, as she takes photos of her unique photography printed on purses.

of every month from October to June. Each meeting they are assigned a topic of interest as a general guideline for shooting, then their work is presented with an open critiquing discussion followed by tips and tricks, using mainly Photoshop as the choice photo editing program. Topics covered include such as how to use various modes on your camera, composition, lighting, posing and printing.

The images that capture the imaginations of the DPI Photography Group are on exhibit for public viewing until June 30. Most of the photography is available for sale.


11th Annual DPI Photography Exhibition

Where: Elizabeth’s Art Gallery, 54 Courthouse Square, Goderich, ON

When: Until June 30. Gallery open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Contact: 519-524-4080 or artinfo@elizabeths.ca

Blyth Festival Art Gallery showcases students’ creative works

15 May
Forefront: Purple Haze, an oil by Kaitlyn McLeod of F.E. Madill.

Forefront: Purple Haze, an oil by Kaitlyn McLeod of F.E. Madill.

By Diva Heather Boa

Approaching from the left, the ivory-coloured ceramic sculpture looks like a classical Greek bust, with its textured hair, heavy

If You Prick Us Do We Bleed, sculpture by Carley Burke, F.E. Madill.

If You Prick Us Do We Bleed, sculpture by Carley Burke, F.E. Madill.

brow and chiselled chin. But walk around to the right side, and a shocking transformation takes place. That side is stripped of flesh, with a gaping eye socket, jawbone and teeth exposed by the artist, Carley Burke, of F.E. Madill Secondary School in Wingham.

Hers is one of a handful of sculptures and three-dimensional art on display alongside dozens of pieces of art by students from Grades 9 to 12 in high schools across Huron and Perth Counties that’s on display in the Student Show 2015 at the Blyth Festival Art Gallery. The art is as varied as teens are apt to be, with only the fact that the artists are students to tie together the show.

Sunsets and puppies, tulips and avocados, corn and dolphins share space on the

Crimson Sunset, an acrylic by Mathias Ball of Goderich District Collegiate Institute.

Crimson Sunset, an acrylic by Mathias Ball of Goderich District Collegiate Institute.

walls. Oils and acrylics, digital and mixed media hang side by side. Some works are for sale, while others will remain part of the artists’ private collections. And as one might

expect, much of the subject matter is drawn from the media and popular culture – those things that capture the attention of teens, like Spiderman, The Joker, Alice in Wonderland, Robin Williams, Darth Vader and the Beatles. All burst with energy, with vibrant colours and bold strokes.

Self-portrait, an acrylic by Emma Johns of Central Huron Secondary School.

Self-portrait, an acrylic by Emma Johns of Central Huron Secondary School. 

A visit to the gallery, which could take up to 45 minutes to contemplate, coupled with lunch or tea at a nearby restaurant makes for a nice afternoon getaway in Huron County.

The free show will be available for viewing during the Blyth Festival box office hours and continues on display until May 21.

Then from May 23 to June 19, works from artists from the region will be on display in a non-juried Community Show. Opening reception is on May 23, starting at 6 p.m.


 

What: Student Show 2015

Where: Blyth Festival Art Gallery, beside Blyth Festival box office, 423 Queen St., Blyth

When, Until May 21, Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Pavo, a mixed media work by Lily Pella of Goderich District Collegiate Institute.

Pavo, a mixed media work by Lily Pella of Goderich District Collegiate Institute.

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