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Next to Normal: A play to be talked about

10 Apr

nexttonormalBy Diva Heather Boa

Next to Normal isn’t your normal community theatre production by a long shot.

You’d be hard-pressed to have a few laughs or find familiar lyrics in this production by Goderich Little Theatre, running until April 16. Rather, the rock musical that first hit Off-Broadway in 2008, is a relevant, weighty commentary on the effects of mental illness on a family, also touching on dysfunctional relationships and drug addiction – with no real upside.

It’s the story of a mother (played by Susan Carradine-Armstrong) who struggles with bipolar disorder while trying to hold together her small family, a father (played by Matthew Hussey) who is bound by a sense of duty and forever hopeful that the next treatment will bring a cure, a subtly manipulative son (played by Jordan Henry), and an angry, forgotten daughter (Liv Hussey) who turns to pharmaceuticals for solace. It is a wonderfully sad, raw story in which possibly any of us can find a little bit of ourselves.

In Saturday night’s performance, the cast of six embraces this big script, heavy in lines and music, with an energy and believability that could rival any number of professional theatre performances.

Director Jordan Henry, who also plays the son, delivers an inspiring interpretation of the play, with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. His vision is clear and crisp, with well-defined characters that make the story easy for the audience to follow, even with a few surprises thrown in.

In particular, Carradine-Armstrong is spellbinding as the mother, equally believable manically making sandwiches on the kitchen floor as she is eloquently expressing love for her teenaged daughter. At times she is coy and playful, at other times regretful and lost. Always, she makes her character shine.

Two youths (Liv Hussey and Ben Hearn, as the daughter’s boyfriend) who hold their own on stage with veteran actors may be a testament to the strong drama classes in our local high schools.

Cara Stephenson has the challenge of playing various doctor characters that I didn’t find particularly well-written – an issue for the playwright rather than the local performers – but she has a bit of fun in her roles and has a bold singing voice that fits nicely with the rest of the cast.

The set design is intriguing, with broken, wide-set boards in the shape of a house at the back of the stage, a backdrop to the band on risers in full view of the audience. The remainder of the economy-sized stage is cluttered with furniture and props that are simply rearranged as required.

This is a play to be talked about. Mental illness is a topic we should be talking about. As the director says: “…we hope you enjoy this production as much as we have, and, more importantly, that this production will encourage you to feel, think and share.”


What: Next to Normal, a presentation of Goderich Little Theatre

Where: The Livery Theatre, 35 South St., Goderich

When: April 14-16 at 8 p.m.

How: Box Office open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Rush seats, if available, on sale 30 minutes before performance. Tickets online at (may take up to three days to process). Members: $20 adults, $18 seniors, $15 youth under 18, $10 children under 12. Non-members: $25 adults, $22.50 seniors, $15 youth under 18, $10 children under 12.


Bayfield’s rich history stored in one building

16 Mar

bayfieldarchives3By Diva Claire Carter

Huron County is full of amazing stories. As residents, we sometimes forget the contributions to culture and Canada’s history that have come from our own backyards.

I’d walked past the beautiful dollhouse-like building that houses the Bayfield Historical Society and Archives many times, but had never gone inside.

That changed on a quiet trip to Bayfield.

A visit begins with a warm welcome.  It is hard not to feel a spark of curiosity as you open the old door.  Walls are lined with artifacts, artwork and books. Visitors can purchase books about the area and prints by Bayfield artists. Locally produced videos can be viewed on a big screen. I watched the film about Maud Stirling, a nursing sister from Bayfield.

bayfieldarchives1Volunteers host historic walking tours each Saturday in July and August, starting at 1 p.m.  As the website says, “Learn about the history of the area, the ghosts, the fires and the fascinating characters who helped make the village the wonderful place it is today.” The $10 fee supports Archive initiatives.  If you can’t make it on a Saturday, self-guided tours are available at the Archives and a number of other local outlets for $5.

Located at 20 Main Street North, the Bayfield Historical Society and Archives is open May to November from 1-4 pm on Wednesday and Saturday.



Vanastra is ‘Still Standing’

10 Feb

vanastra2By Diva Amanda Swartz

Who knew Vanastra could be so fun? As someone who grew up in this tiny town, I can assure you that I did not think so. However, over the past couple years I have seen a new devotion to trying to make Vanastra a better place to live. A new park, more regular events, community gardens, dedication to keeping the Recreation Centre, bringing in more business, and a desire to use its heritage to inspire interest have all been efforts put forth by Vanastra residents to encourage further development.

vanastra7A big win for Vanastra happened this past Friday, when Canadian comedian and television star Jonny Harris came to town to put a spotlight on this forgotten historical town. Nominated for best television host on CBC’s ‘Still Standing’, Jonny is also well known for his role on the Canadian crime drama ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ as Constable Crabtree. His fun-loving and humorous nature has won the hearts of many Canadians across the country. It is no surprise that he drew over 300 locals out to enjoy some great laughs at the filming of ‘Still Standing’ featuring Vanastra as the once important town, now lost in history. This stand-up comedy routine not only featured Jonny Harris, but also performances by Fraser Young and Steve Dylan. Together these three comedians made the audience laugh until their cheeks hurt.

vanastra8For this great Canadian comedy act, Harris immerses himself in small towns all across Canada and loves to bring comic relief to the folks who call these places home. He finds that he comes to appreciate each town for its uniqueness and that everywhere he goes the people love to laugh at themselves. The local Christian Reformed Church hosted this incredible event with a room packed – standing room only – with hundreds of locals who wanted to meet Jonny and enjoy the comradery of making light of Vanastra’s long-standing perception as the abandoned and fallen town.

vanastra5Not many, including those who grew up in Vanastra, know the details of its history in helping in World War II with its radar technology. At the time it was established, Vanastra was a top secret base for the Allied Forces, built to train and supply over 7,000 technicians and support staff for Canada, Britain, and America. In fact, Vanastra was so top secret that not even those who built the entire town in 14 weeks knew what it was built for.

History screams from the walls of the nearly crumbling buildings. These stories are overlooked by the ruins left behind after the RCAF was done with the town. However, there are people like Diane Ryan and Maureen Dunsmore who are working hard to bring some of those stories back to life. Where Vanastra was once a place kept secret, it is now a town that the residents are shouting from the rooftops to take notice of – rooftops that Harris pointed out are not quite fit to to be standing on.

vanastra6Although Vanastra may not be the happenin’ place that Diane and Maureen are striving for, it doesn’t mean that we can’t expect some great things from them in the future. As tourists coming to Huron County, this town may not seem like the No. 1 stop along the way, but keep your eyes open and perhaps one day the stories that are trapped in the abandoned buildings will be torn out and shared for the world to appreciate.


Goderich Little Theatre strikes it big with Steel Magnolias

7 Nov


This photo of the cast is courtesy of Heads Up Hair Team, which has done a masterful job of setting hair.

Photo courtesy of Heads Up Hair Team, which has done a masterful job of setting hair.

By Diva Shari Parsons

GODERICH – Big hair and big personalities were center stage on the opening night of Goderich Little Theatre‘s production of Robert Harling’s play, Steel Magnolias.

The evening began with the play’s director, Colleen Caesar, sharing the interesting factoid that while many of us may be familiar with the 1989 movie of the same name, the film was actually based on the play written by Robert Harling who wrote about the true-life story of his sister, Susan.

I was uncertain as to what to expect from a small town theatre company putting on a play whose story was first made known to the general populace through a well-known movie filled with famous actors. However, the Goderich Little Theatre surpassed all my expectations with their excellent rendition.

The stage was set to resemble the interior of a home-based beauty salon. I appreciated the clever use of a lower level for the placement of the stylist chairs, leaving the sight-line to center stage clear as this was where a lot of the action took place. With the exception of a few thematic prop changes that indicated time changes, the setting stayed the same throughout the play.

The brassy, bold and somewhat over-the-top character of salon owner, Truvy Jones, was humorously played by Lisa Hood sporting a bright blonde puffy hairstyle and slightly tacky, curve-hugging clothes.

My favourite actors were Leigh Ann Van Aaken as the mother, M’Lynn Eatenton, and Sherry Marshall as Claree Belcher, the former first lady of Chinquapin Parish. Both ladies portrayed their characters with such natural ease and realism that you forgot they were just the actors and not the real characters themselves.

I was very surprised to see a young lady that I know from my ladies’ fellowship group  – Courtney Henry – playing the part of the somewhat lost apprentice, Annelle.

The irascible character of Ouiser Beaudreaux was portrayed by Annie Coulter. Annie did a good job carrying out the physical demeanor and voice of her character.

Shauna Clark did a good job portraying Shelby, the young woman whose story is the centre of the play. I can’t describe her as being the main character as I found that each of the characters was larger than life and each of them had her own story to tell.

I was very impressed by the incredible amount of dialogue that needed to be memorized and by the almost flawless delivery of the famous Southern drawl.

My friend and I both thoroughly enjoyed this play portrayed with great humour and gentle sorrow. To top it off, I won a door prize! I highly encourage everyone to see this production.


If you go:

What: Goderich Little Theatre’s Steel Magnolias

Where: The Livery, 35 South St., goderich

When: Nov. 7 and 11 to 14 at 8 p.m. Nov. 8 at 2 p.m.

How: Tickets are $20 / $18 for members and $25 / $22.50 for non-members. Buy tickets online or at the Box Office, open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday to Friday, from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and 30 minutes before each performance. Phone 519-524-6262 for reservations. Please note a credit card number is required for ticket reservations





Mike Janzen Trio delivers fun, sassy evening of jazz

2 Nov

mikejanzentrio3By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – Monster musicians. That’s how Al Mullin describes the Mike Janzen Trio, after their performance at St. George’s Anglican Church in Goderich last night.

I don’t know much about jazz, but I’ll take Al’s word for it that these three guys – a piano player, a bass player and a drummer – are up and coming musicians to watch. After all, Al is a talented trumpet player with The Howlin’ Dogs Vintage Jazz Band and has the credentials to make that call.

Indeed, Mike Janzen on piano, Ross MacIntyre on bass and guitar, and Ben Riley on drums have wedged this Goderich stop into a schedule that will see Mike head into Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio to wrap up his latest CD and Ross and Ben head off to Japan in two days.

Mike Janzen on piano.

Mike Janzen on piano.

From Sunshine Coast, with its upbeat sounds reminiscent of a lazy day under the hot sun, through Broadway tunes, country jazz, swing jazz numbers to an end with I’ve Decided, with its touch of gospel, this trio delivered fun and sassy, clever and brassy music. They were precise and tight at the opening and close of each song on the playbill, but spontaneity caught a hold in the middle, for a wonderfully entertaining adventure.

Ross MacIntryre on bass and Ben Riley on drums.

Ross MacIntyre on bass and Ben Riley on drums.

On a makeshift stage in the sanctuary, set against a backdrop of long stained glass windows under vaulted ceiling, they wrung sound from their instruments in what seemed like a million impossible ways. There were elbows running along keys and steel, sticks tapping every possible surface, and sounds I’ve never heard come out of a guitar before. Watching hands fly over keys, over strings was captivating. My heart raced without moving a stitch during some of the songs, as they reached a near collision of sound. Then they pulled it all back. It was quiet. Calm. Settled into a slower-paced classical / jazz piece or a familiar song from the Broadway musical Annie or Mary Poppins.

Then there were the oven mitts. In a bit of a tribute to his childhood piano teacher, who chastised him for not practising by telling him it sounded as though he were playing with oven mitts on, Mike Janzen donned oven mitts and played a fun little piece – which sounded pretty darned good.

The evening was a combined effort of the Riverview House Concerts, which has hosted Mike Janzen at a Toronto venue in the past, and The Livery LIVE series, bringing live music to Goderich. The next Livery LIVE concert is the East Pointers, a freshly formed trio of seventh generation Prince Edward Island musicians, performing on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. at The Livery. For more information, visit online.


Painting outside the lines

31 Oct

watercolour4By Diva Shari Parsons

EXETER – Aside from my love of photography, I have also wanted to learn how to paint something other than the walls of my home. Recently, I had the opportunity to “test drive my creative side” by attending a watercolour painting workshop sponsored by Creative Huron and held at the lovely Exeter Public Library.

The instructor was a lovely lady from Port Albert, Michele Miller, who studied Fine Arts at the University of Guelph. Michele told us that she has been painting since she was a child, mainly using oil or acrylic paints. This changed about 12 years ago after she took a watercolour class and the experience “transformed her painting”. She now paints almost exclusively with watercolours.

Michele began the workshop by telling us that anybody can learn to paint; it is just a matter of training your brain to paint what you see, not what you know, and, of course, to practice, practice, practice!

During the course of the workshop we learned about watercolour materials such as paints, paper and brushes. Michele showed us how to “stretch” our paper before painting so that it wouldn’t buckle.

watercolour2We did a short exercise on “value”, which is lights and darks, by learning how to paint using the “gradation” technique of starting off with the darkest value of a colour and then painting lighter and lighter values by adding a bit more water each time. Michele told us that traditional watercolourists don’t use white and rarely use black. We then tried our hand painting a still life of a coffee mug using the gradation technique. I found this exercise quite challenging as it also involved the practice of painting what I saw rather than what I knew about the mug. This meant that I was not painting stiff and formal black lines but looser shadows and highlights.

Our next exercise involved colour. Michele instructed us on how to make a colour watercolour5wheel using the primary colours of red, blue and yellow. Then we learned how to mix primary colours to make secondary colours such as green, orange and purple. She taught us that warm colours make objects appear to move forward and cool colours make objects recede. The use of warm and cool colours causes contrast and the more the contrast the more stimulating a picture is to look at. Michele also taught us that the use of complimentary colours, those opposite each other on the colour wheel, can really make colours “pop”.

The final subject of the workshop was composition, which is the layout or arrangement of the painting. Composition has a huge impact on the success of a watercolour3painting. There are two basic rules of composition: 1) never make any two intervals or spaces the same, and 2) establish a focal point – the main point of interest in the picture. “The Rule of Thirds” is used to divide up the canvas and establish the painting’s intervals and focal points. A symmetrical arrangement is not as interesting as an asymmetrical one.

Along with composition, Michele taught us how to create a mix of “hard” and “soft” edges while painting in order to create flow or movement through a painting.

Our final task was to paint a scene of sky, water and beach using all the techniques we had learned that day. A happy accident created a lovely texture to one corner of watercolour6my sky. When I was lamenting the result, Michele told us that it was important to try different techniques and that often “accidents” turned out to be something wonderful.

The four-hour workshop cost only $20 and included all the materials. I say that it was a “bargoon” for such a wonderful time!

This series of classes is produced by Huron Arts & Heritage Network and the County of Huron Cultural Services Department along with partner arts organizations: Art aRound Town,Blyth East Side Dance, Blyth Festival, Elizabeth’s Art Gallery, Goderich Celtic Roots Festival, Goderich Little Theatre, Libro Imagine Huron and Worth Their Salt. Funding is provided by the Ontario Trillium Foundation so that registration to all workshops is just $20.



Huron’s tourism operators get a night out

22 Oct

waynepettiBy Diva Heather Boa

BAYFIELD – A cluster of women have turned their chairs away from tables recently cleared of the remnants of another fine dinner at The Ashwood and they face indie rock musician Wayne Petti, who commands the small stage.

He encourages them to sing the chorus “If I live, or if I die” while he lays his vocals over top, accompanied by guitar. Their voices carry to the far end of the bar, where others attending the Fall Harvest Dinner hosted by the Huron Tourism Association chat over after-dinner drinks.

It’s a Thursday night in this quiet village, but nearly 40 people have gathered here for a three-course dinner and to hear this talented Canadian singer-songwriter from band Cuff the Duke, just another musician in an impressive lineup of performers who hit the stage at The Ashwood. (Royal Wood with Peter Katz on Oct. 29 is sold out, but there are still tickets available for Northern Pikes – yes, the same band that sings She Ain’t Pretty – on Nov. 12., and The Ashgrove on Nov. 14.)

The Ashwood is a fine example of the effort local tourism operators put into creating experiences that attract tourists.

Kim Burgsma, President, Huron Tourism Association

Kim Burgsma, President, Huron Tourism Association

In fact, Kim Burgsma, who is the president of the Huron Tourism Association, tells those tourism operators gathered for dinner that tourism brings $60 million annually to Huron County, with 94 per cent of visitors coming from less than three hours away.


Want to be in the know about what’s going on in Huron County?

Here are a few ways:

  1. Follow Ontario’s West Coast’s Facebook Page
  2. Follow Ontario’s West Coast’s Twitter Page @onwestcoast
  3. Sign up for the Huron Tourism Association weekly listing of upcoming events by emailing