Ag. panels to accompany Festival's 'The Team on the Hill' - March 7, 2019
BY DENNY SCOTT
As part of the newly-created Deeper Roots Series, the Blyth Festival will be opening the floor to some serious discussions about agriculture connecting with the world premiere of The Team on the Hill this year.
The Team on the Hill is a play focused on the Ransier farm, a cattle operation on the north side of the fictional town of Drumlin. Patriarch Austin watches as his son and grandson argue over the best way to farm, which is only further complicated when a developer with plans for a golf course approaches the family.
The show is penned by Dan Needles, who is famous for his Wingfield series which has been performed across the country including on the CBC and, of course, the Blyth stage.
This year, the Festival sought to create the Deeper Roots Series, which gathers and codifies many of the events the Festival has previously run, including talk back sessions after plays.
“People love the Blyth Festival shows and, at the end of the show, we can always see the audience talking, arguing and continuing the conversation that takes place on the stage,” Artistic Director Gil Garratt explained to The Citizen. “They are engaged and excited and we want to make sure that we capitalize on that with events like this.”
He said that, through 29 special events across the 2019 Festival season, he hopes the audience will immerse itself in the plays on stage and continue a conversation related to what they have witnessed.
“With The Team on the Hill, we have a family farm at the crossroads,” Garratt said. “Grandpa’s farm versus grandson’s farm proves for a lot of conflict and excitement and a lot of chances for discussions.”
Three special panels are being scheduled around the themes discussed in The Team on the Hill, Garratt said. The first will be moderated by University of Guelph professor and local agriculture expert Wayne Caldwell.
“He will facilitate a panel of agriculture students,” Garratt said. “Hopefully we will have grads and undergrads, and they can talk about the future of farming.”
The second panel will focus on women in farming, and while it will be tied to The Team on the Hill, Garratt said the discussion definitely had roots in the 2018 premiere of Judith: Memories of a Lady Pig Farmer.
“There was a panel in Goderich after that play that featured local farmers like Amy Cronin and Tony McQuail,” he said. “This is very much based in that.”
Garratt explained the panel will focus on the fact that though women have been one of the major supports for farming over the centuries, their roles just weren’t recognized because what they did was classified as “women’s work” years ago.“They’ve never been fully appreciated,” he said.
While the panel for that discussion hasn’t been set, Garratt said the Festival is looking for combinations of women in farm families, like mother-daughter or aunt-niece duos who will discuss the evolving nature of women on the farm and women farmers.
The final panel will revolve around the question of when it’s time for a farmer to hang up his overalls and leave the farm.
“It’s focused on succession and wonders when it’s time for a farmer to move on,” he said. “It’s a tough decision because farmers are often considering ensuring their legacy of labour while at the same time being able to afford to leave farming and offer opportunities for the next generation.”
Garratt said that the Morrison family, of Lucknow’s Morrison Berry Farm, has been contacted for that panel as has Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs representative Vicki Lass and her daughter.
“These panels will be a great opportunity for the audience to connect not just with the themes of the play, but also to become part of the ongoing discussions around these issues,” Garratt said.
For more information on the panel or the play, which premieres July 31, visit blythfestival.com.