Firemen’s breakfast a hot ticket in Huron County

12 Jul

fireman8By Diva Danica Rush

I once creeped out Kirk Russell in a Toronto coffee shop.

Like really, seriously, totally creeped him out. As I stood second in line, ready to order my morning coffee, I noticed a gorgeous head of hair in front of me. When that wonderfully manly mane turned around my jaw dropped. I was staring right into the deep, mysterious eyes of Kirk Russell. The real Kirk Russell! I thought we were having a moment of instant soul mate connection. But this sense of I-will-leave-Goldie-forever-for-you quickly faded away as I realized the look in his eyes was actually that of terror and panic. I was clearly blocking his path to both the creamers and any probable escape routes. He ran away from me too fast before I could get out the only words on my mind – “I’ve loved you, Kirk Russell, ever since I saw the movie Backdraft as a little girl”.

Kirk, your smile lights up the big screen.

Kirk, your laugh is the center of Hollywood. Beep… Beep…

Kirk, yes of course I… beep… beep…would marry…

Beep… Beep… Beep….

The alarm was going off and pulled me out of Kirk’s awaiting arms.

My eyes popped open. It was to be my first local firemen’s breakfast! I quickly showered and got dressed. Then I got changed as I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that a push-up bra and fire engine red lipstick was a bit too much for this Sunday morning community breakfast. I mean it’s not like Kirk would be there… but could he be though?? The thought was nagging but I stuck with the tamer outfit and set off for Brussels Fire Hall.

I was not the only firefighter enthusiast to show up, though to be honest the other diehard fans had an average age of six, were accompanied by parents and mostly drank from bright blue sippy cups.

The fire trucks were beautiful and should be as much of a source of local pride as the community members who dedicate fireman10themselves to the local fire service. The firefighter who greeted everyone at the door told me they would be serving up to 2,000 people that day. Which is pretty impressive to a woman who can’t commit to making her own cup of coffee in the morning. The tradition of serving community breakfasts has been long standing; at least over 30 years the friendly firefighter told me. And what a breakfast! Warm toast, perfectly hashed potatoes, excellent eggs and two choices of meat… they sure do know their way around a breakfast plate. A perfect meal done by the firefighters joking around with each other in the cooking pit in front of the fire station. Of course these breakfast are fireman1no joking matter. In fact they bring in a good source of funds that are needed to keep up or buy new equipment for these local heroes and their station. The pay-by-donation breakfast not only fills you up, but you know your money goes to a cause that benefits the whole community.

They may not be Hollywood stars, they may not be world-class chefs, but they are a local people dedicated to keeping us safe all year long and well-fed one morning each summer.

Disclaimer: The author’s boyfriend was horrified that a Hollywood movie was mentioned in this article. I give a whole-hearted apology to the firefighters who know that the reality of their work is not like the movies. But to everyone else, well, I don’t apologize for my lasting girlhood crush that got away one morning in a downtown Toronto coffee shop. Sigh…


Firemen’s Breakfasts Across Huron County

August 2 – Goderich Firefighters
August 8 – Zurich Firefighters
Sept. 12 & 13 – North Huron – Blyth Station
(in conjunction with the Threshers Reunion in Blyth)
Sept. 12 – Brucefield Firefighters
Sept. 20 – North Huron – Wingham Station

The Wilberforce Hotel: History made relevant, accessible in world premiere

12 Jul
Sophia Walker as Milly Steward and Marcel Stewart as Austin Steward in Wilberforce Hotel. Photo by Terry Manzo for the Blyth Festival

Sophia Walker as Milly Steward and Marcel Stewart as Austin Steward in Wilberforce Hotel. Photo by Terry Manzo for the Blyth Festival

By Diva Danica Rush

The sounds of The Wilberforce Hotel are foreign to Blyth Festival audiences of today. Musical bones, shackle keys and clapping rocks harmonize with raw and spirited voices to create soul-aching melodies that never had a chance to root themselves into Ontario’s landscape.

A sense of familiar backdrops the little known story of the Wilberforce Hotel, a play wonderfully executed in its world premiere last week at the Blyth Festival.

You don’t need to know anything about the Wilberforce Colony to enjoy this production. From the moment it starts, the story is easily placed within Huron County’s history. The set and props are local textures – wooden tables, clay jugs, farming hoes – these are items that share heritage with the audience. Places discussed in this play are our soils – Birr, London, Lake Huron – we know these lands. The Wilberforce Hotel unites our local senses to a historical time period that we seldom see as connected to rural Ontario. And I have to say, seeing this play during a week where the American confederate flag was under scrutiny made me realize that no time or place is immune to political seasons, not even Huron County in the 1800s.

Playwriter Sean Dixon and Director Philip Akin excel in their work by bringing the autobiographical tale of Austin Steward to the stage to make this historical story accessible and relevant to local audiences. The characters of this play are identifiable yet complex. I image several couples went home from the play with different perspectives on the characters and stayed up late discussing them.

Austin Steward is the play’s moral compass, whose unwavering values can be frustrating at times. His wife, Milly, the only female character, is a strong woman whose love for her husband does not blind her to his flaws. For me as a woman and a partner, I felt Milly’s pain as she stood by her husband knowing she would draw a line in the sand at some point. Austin is a man whose struggles with purpose and pressures and is committed to faith and family. He’s so good that he simply can’t see the bad in others. The other major characters are easy to identify with too. Henry Hill, the wet blanket who doesn’t understand how he gets in or out of tense situations, and Robert Cole, a man of “leisure and corruption” whose hotel high jinx and brushes with the law would probably tire out any horse or woman he came across. Austin’s goodness is matched up against a fraud by the name of Israel Lewis, a toothy-grinning narcissist who dresses himself in popular fashion and politics. The actors should be commended for their ability to stay true to the many accents they take on during the show. At no point did a cartoon impersonation come out as they transitioned smoothly between Southern and European speech of that time period. Strong actors have the ability to show their characters’ nature and reflections beyond the script and this cast brings body to the characters’ words. A puffing of the chest, a toiling back, a memory flickers on someone’s face… you feel as if you are sitting at a table at the Wilberforce Hotel pretending not to be listening to the men.

The audience laughed alongside Milly and men’s banter, and grew silent during darker speeches. The standing ovation at the end was well deserved. As soon as I got home I did Internet searches on the Wilberforce Colony, as I just needed to know and understand more about this piece of local history.

The Wilberforce Hotel will definitely entertain you. This play lingers with you in the corner of your mind for days afterwards, as you slowly realize that those familiar textures and lands hold stories that haven’t been given breath yet. If you open yourself up to truths that lie between histories and art this play will, to paraphrase Austin Steward, show us to ourselves.


 

The Wilberforce Hotel runs until Aug. 8.

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.

Chicago brings “all that jazz” and more to Huron Country Playhouse

8 Jul
Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season.Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

By Diva Caroline Thuss

As the lights dim in the theatre, I know that my husband is in for an interesting experience, as he has no background knowledge (other than the quick Cole’s notes version I gave in the car ride to Grand Bend) about the iconic Broadway sensation Chicago.

Boy, was I right.

The opening night of Drayton Entertainment’s Chicago at the Huron Country Playhouse had the audience captured from the start. Lots of long legs, toned abs and barely-there costumes along with amazing musically talented ensemble definitely grab the attention of all in the theatre. This is not a show for young children!

The darker, sultry side of life in the 1920s Chicago comes alive through edgy dancing, strong musical numbers and humour as the cast razzle dazzles its way through the story of the two divas, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, who vie for the spotlight in Cook County Jail after doing away with their cheating lovers. Both Jodi McFadden (Velma) and Jayme Armstrong’s (Roxie) powerful voices demand the audience’s attention from the moment they start singing.

It is hard not to find a soft spot in your heart for Geoffrey Whynot’s Amos, Roxie’s hapless husband, who just wants to be seen but can never catch up to the spotlight. His rendition of Mr. Cellophane captures the sympathy of the audience, as Amos is just pathetic.

Dean Hollin portrayed the sly lawyer Billy Flynn and made me hate how slimy and sleazy his character was but done in such a smooth way. Valerie Boyle gets the audience going as Mama Morton after her opening song “When You’re Good to Mama” that had us cheering for her and her powerful vocals.

HCPgazeboMy husband and I enjoyed some salted caramel ice cream bars during the intermission under the new, large gazebo that has been recently built on the front lawn. It was great to overhear conversations from other viewers about what they thought so far. Many talked about the athletic ability of the ensemble and the vocal talents of the whole cast. Others discussed the costumes (mostly the men) who seemed to be pleased that their wives and significant others brought them to the Huron Country Playhouse.

R. Markus as Mary Sunshine’s operatic voice could possibly shatter glass. I loved the shocker that comes from the character at the end!

The ensemble is simply mind blowing. It demonstrates beauty and strength in its dance routines, and is definitely not hard on the eyes, thanks to Ivan Brozic edgy costume designs that leave little to the imagination. This ensemble is full of talent as its members, especially the men, take on many roles throughout the performance. The murderesses’ “Cell Block Tango” is a favourite of mine along with their performance alongside McFadden in the opening number “All that Jazz”.

I loved the two-storey jailhouse set design that allowed for a very smooth transition between scenes and the orchestra being moved to the second level of the jailhouse just within view.

Director and choreographer Mike Jackson has a hit with Chicago. Alex Mustakas, the artistic director of Drayton Entertainment, calls Chicago “…the hottest ticket in town this summer” and both my husband and I agree! As we walked to the car, my husband was humming “All that Jazz” and was discussing how many of his friends would enjoy seeing it.

The Playhouse was packed on opening night and I am sure tickets will be limited so I would suggest clearing an afternoon or evening in your calendar to catch this show before it’s gone.

Chicago runs until July 18.

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).

 

Theatre in a uniquely beautiful setting

3 Jul

By Diva Jennifer Mossop

According to NASA, Jupiter and Venus are a “jaw dropping few degrees apart” right now and clearly visible at sunset in the Western Sky. Venus is all about love and beauty. Jupiter is the planet of the abstract mind, ruling higher learning, and bestowing a yen for exploring ideas, both intellectually and spiritually. A perfect analogy for the experience that awaits you on the shores of Lake Huron, at the Huron Country Playhouse on the outskirts of Grand Bend.

There is something quite precious and picturesque about an evening at the Huron Country Playhouse.   The farmers’ fields are very green now, and filled with promise. The sky is big, blue and endless. And nestled in the midst of all this natural delight, is a seat of culture – an iconic member of the Drayton Entertainment family. For over 40 years, generations have been coming to this renovated barn to be treated to the entertaining, mind expanding, soul searching and soul satisfying delights of live theatre.

We drove along the B line from Highway 21, feeling the lush summer country landscape engulf us. My daughter sat beside me – 12 years old now, and dressed in crisp white shirt, black pants and a scrubbed clean look ready for her first “real job”. At age 12, children in the surrounding area are invited to usher at the Playhouse. Ushering is now ranked as a tradition and an honour, shared by generations in the Grand Bend area. These are the eager young faces that meet you as you arrive. Eager to serve and eager for the chance to watch professional live theatre!

Photo Credit: Kevin Kruchkywich and Daniela Vlaskalic in Last Chance Romance, 2015 Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke

Photo Credit: Kevin Kruchkywich and Daniela Vlaskalic in Last Chance Romance, 2015
Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke

There are two theatre options, with the main productions housed in the old barn and the smaller Playhouse II accommodating lighter fare.   Last year, Les Miserables met with ecstatic reviews, as did a pantomime version of Peter Pan. This year, Anne of Green Gables has already stolen many hearts, and now Chicago is just ramping up. This was the production my daughter took in as she helped hand out programs in the main theatre. I, on the other hand, had tickets for the Playhouse II, for the comedy, Last Chance Romance.

Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season.  Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Jodi McFadden and Company in Chicago, 2015 Season.
Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Sets and costumes are always creatively, meaningfully and well done, and the calibre of performer and performance continually meets with approval from seasoned theatre-goers and critics, alike.

Intermission brings the chance to step out into the fresh country air, and gaze at the magnificent sky, ablaze in setting sun glory. Collecting a refreshment, we ventured out on to the lawn to see the new gazebo and met up with the Chicago goers, gushing about the production next door. Note to self, buy tickets now.

At end of the evening, we collected our daughter, her eyes wide and shining with the new experience. Climbing into the car, we looked over the fields at the rising full moon to the East, and enormous Venus and Jupiter in the Western Sky. Natural beauty and human experience in a satisfying balance. If you haven’t been to the Playhouse yet, or yet this season, don’t miss the chance. Check its website here.

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

How to celebrate Canada Day in Huron County

30 Jun

CanadaDay-EventsBy Diva Claire Carter

The five-day forecast is showing a break from the rain, and I’m ready to celebrate Canada Day!  The holiday is extra special this year, as we’re also celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Canada Flag.  Here’s a list of what’s happening around Huron County.

goderich fireworksFestivities in Goderich kick off tonight with a fireworks show at the beach, featuring the sounds of Hotel California, the Original Eagles Tribute Band near the Marine Museum.  The concert starts at 8 p.m., and fireworks at dusk.  In the event of lightning, the fireworks will be rescheduled to July 1st.

On July 1st, head to Courthouse Square Park at 11 a.m. for free hotdogs, beverages and live entertainment.  The entertainment lineup for the day includes:

11:30 a.m. – Late Nite Radio
12:15 p.m. – Goderich Laketown Band
12:30 p.m. – The Civic Ceremony takes place on the Performance Stage to officially recognize Canada Day.
2 p.m. – Parade begins, traveling around the square and following the route below:

Goderich parade map

After the Canada Day parade, head back back to the beach for the Sail Pass and Boat Parade. The boats will sail past Cove Beach, St. Christophers Beach and the Main Beach before they enter the Main Harbour to be judged.

The Huron County Museum and Historic Gaol are both open from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Canada Day.

July 1st is a very full day in Exeter.  Head to the Rec Centre and Legion in South Huron early for a full day of events!  Free swim will also be offered.
7 a.m. to 11 a.m. – Breakfast

9 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Car Show

10 a.m. – Dress your Pet Contest

4 p.m.– dusk – musical entertainment

5 p.m. – 7 p.m. – Supper at the Exeter Legion

Fireworks at dusk.

Contact  Ian Palmateer for more information – (519) 228-7303.

The Wingham Firefighters Association is hosting fireworks in Riverside Park at Dusk on July 1st.
Also on July 1st, is the Seaforth Firefighter’s Breakfast.  Travel to Huron East and enjoy eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, pancakes, toast, coffee and juice at the Seaforth Firehall (31 Birch Street) from 9 a.m. until noon.  Contact Marty Bedard for more information. (mbedard@huroneast.com).

Depending on how much you feel like doing, you can see fireworks two nights in a row, enjoy a great breakfast or dinner and participate in community fun.  Happy Canada Day!

For information on other summer events in Goderich, visit http://www.ontarioswestcoast.com

Goderich’s shoreline the perfect stage for air show

28 Jun
The Snowbirds fly in diamond formation over the shoreline of Lake Huron, much to the delight of a crowd gathered on the beach in Goderich.

The Snowbirds fly in diamond formation over the shoreline of Lake Huron, much to the delight of a crowd gathered on the beach in Goderich.

By Diva Christine Harris

GODERICH – We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day for the Goderich and Region Air Show.  It was warm and sunny, and the spectators were lined up all the way down the entire beachfront; some on benches, some on their lawn chairs, and even a few in the water!

The SkyHawks, with their trademark Canadian flag parachutes, make their way to a landing at Goderich's beach.

The SkyHawks, with their trademark Canadian flag parachutes, make their way to a landing at Goderich’s beach.

First up were the Canadian Armed Forces SkyHawks.  They are Canada’s only military parachute demonstration team.  The SkyHawks have represented Canada for over 40 years with their signature Canadian flag parachutes.  It was amazing to see how they got so close to each other and then hooked themselves together to make formations.  They flew the Canadian and Ontario flags behind them and also used smoke during their descent.

Next up we saw the Canadian Forces Snowbirds.  This is a name that most Canadians can recognize and they are a treat to see!  Flying the Canadair CT-114 Tutor, the pilots of these jets top out at speeds of 750km/hr.  During shows, they range in speed from 185-590 km/hr and get as close as 1.2 metres (4 feet) when flying together and 10 metres when doing a solo cross.  We got to see some of their signature formations like the Big Diamond, Arrowhead, and Big Arrow.  What was especially enjoyable for the kids was how low these jets got to the ground when they came around, and the beach was the perfect spot with its slope for them to hug the ground a bit more

The Snowbirds fly in tight formation over Lake Huron's shoreline.

The Snowbirds fly in tight formation over Lake Huron’s shoreline.

when they passed by while coming out or going into a manoeuvre.  We also learned that there was a pilot who had flown over his hometown while he was here.  Captain Bart Postma is originally from Clinton and flies Aircraft Number Three in the inner left-wing position.

Unfortunately I was unable to stay to see the RCAF CF-18 Hornet demonstration.  It was piloted by Captain Denis Cheech Beaulieu and tops out at Mach 1.8, which is 1,800km/hr.  As I was leaving Goderich I could hear it all the way out to Highway 8 and see some of the locals looking and pointing to the sky.  The CF-18 is known for its sheer power and its loud jet engine.  It can accelerate vertically after take-off and the interesting part is that you won’t actually hear the jet until it’s past you because of the speeds it travels.  After seeing this demonstration at another air show, I’m sure it didn’t disappoint the crowd.

The air show has been called an “Overwhelming Success” by the 532 Maitland Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, which organized the event.  Perhaps this will be an annual event!

For more information on events along Ontario’s West Coast, click here.

Clusters of people lined the beach and the bluffs at Goderich, getting good seats from which to watch the air show.

Clusters of people lined the beach and the bluffs at Goderich, getting good seats from which to watch the air show.

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