As my loved ones have spread out across the country, this summer I’ve had the opportunity to see more of Canada than I ever have before. Funny thing is .… travelling has a way of opening my eyes to some of the things I love about home. While it is fun and interesting to see and learn about new places, there is so much about where we live for which to be thankful.
One of my favorite things about summer in Huron County is going to the Blyth Festival Theatre. This year the theatre celebrated its 44th season – so has been around almost as long as I have. I certainly wasn’t thinking about summer theatre before it started. Let’s just leave it at that.
Some of the things that make Blyth Festival great is that the plays they present are all Canadian plays, many are original, and a lot of them tell stories that hit pretty close to home. Blyth Festival’s Artistic Director, Gil Garratt, has provided some interesting information about the theatre and the plays it presents. “To date, Blyth Festival has premiered more than 135 plays by Canadians for Canadians. Plays that started at the Blyth Festival have now won Governor General’s awards, been produced in 29 countries worldwide, and have been translated into dozens of languages (including American Sign Language). In 2018 alone, six plays that premiered at Blyth have had or will have subsequent productions at 15 different theatres all across Canada.”
“Ontario Summer Theatre” is a website (http://summertheatre.ca) devoted to, as you might guess from the name, promoting summer theatre in Ontario. It lists 17 members, including the Blyth Festival Theatre. So while Blyth is not unique in Ontario for being the home to a summer theatre, it is still something that not everyone has in their back yard.
Seeing a live play gives us the opportunity to think about something we might think we know from a different perspective. Or learning about something we had no idea about. Some of the stories presented in Blyth affected me directly, others happened before my time – but there are still lessons to be learned. While the plays can be funny and entertaining, there are also plays that have challenged my thinking and the way I see the world.
One of the most moving and thought provoking plays I have ever seen was called Innocence Lost, and based on Steven Truscott’s life. It was commissioned by the Blyth Festival in 2007 and premiered in 2008. Playwright, Beverley Cooper, on her website (http://www. beverleycooper. com/innocencelost/) says “The play examines the nature of community and how good people can make bad choices.” Watching his tragic story unfold made me reflect on issues that were happening in our own community at the time and shifted my perspective. This is part of the power of live theatre.
“Farming is a profession of hope,” Gil Garratt quotes Brian Brett in his playwright’s notes for The Pigeon King, which premiered last summer and had a few shows this year as well. That play helped me see how a persuasive and compelling man was able to convince people to believe, sometimes against their better judgment.
“More than pigeons and squab, what Arlan Galbraith traded in was hope.” Not just the farmers got fleeced. There are banks who made business loans against century farms, mortgage brokers, feed companies, trucking companies, contractors, insurers, lumberyards, and more… whole communities were riding on Arlan’s reckless roll,” writes Garratt.
This summer I had the chance to see “1837: The Farmers’ Revolt”, written by Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Muraille. This is an interesting one because it has been around for 45 years and was originally rehearsed at the Blyth playhouse, which eventually became the home of the Festival as we know it today. The hall was in such rough shape, the actors who played originally were forced to sign waivers in case the roof came down during rehearsals.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing of the story. “Truth is, in spite of being as ubiquitous and necessary to daily human life as it is, farming, even today, remains a political act,” writes Director, Gil Garratt. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, few of us learn about the rebellions of 1837 and ’38 in school. Years when farmers in both Upper Canada and Lower Canada reached their breaking point, lobbied the government, and were met with ignorance and entitlement, and so resorted to violence to be heard. It doesn’t fit easily with our homespun portrait of the perpetual negotiator. It threatens our comfortable self-image of peace, order, and good government.”
The story of farmers being pushed to violence in order to make their voices heard is one that is still played out, to varying degrees, around the world. In the summer of 2018, as we wait for the outcome of the latest NAFTA negotiations, it is even more apparent that farmers still have to fight to be heard on the political stage. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same, as the old saying goes.
Many people in our community also appreciate and love the Blyth Festival. I don’t think I’ve ever gone when I haven’t seen a few people that I know. Many dedicated volunteers help make the experience even better. If you’ve never gone, or haven’t been in a long time, make sure to put it on your calendar for next summer. It is also one of my favorite Christmas gifts – to give and to receive. Gift packages are available before Christmas and allow the recipient to pick which play they would like to see closer to the time. You can check out the website at https://blythfestival.com/, or call 1.877.862.5984. ◊