“Fine stories, well told” is how Artistic Director Simon Joynes describes Port Stanley Festival Theatre’s 2015 season. “We produce exclusively Canadian compelling material in a variety of comedic, musical, and dramatic genres,” says Joynes, who has been the theatre’s Artistic Director since 2005.
In line with its mandate, the theatre’s season of five “fine stories” kicks off on May 27 and continues until September 29 — a week longer than in previous years. Extending the season is a reflection of the theatre’s growth and development, says Joynes.
“Last year we had 59 sell-outs. The market is there and we always look to fill it. It’s good for us, it’s good for the village and the region, and it serves the needs of our patrons,” says Joynes. “Also, our expanded auditorium will include 50 extra seats when it opens in 2016, and in order to fill them, it’s important to continue growing our audience base. Hopefully, lengthening the season in 2015 will help us do this.”
The intimate 150-seat theatre located in the former Village/Town Hall building on the shores of Lake Erie in Port Stanley has been entertaining summer theatre-goers with “fine stories” since it was founded by Jim Schaefer in the 1970s. Known then as the Port Stanley Summer Theatre, it operated as a semi-professional, community-based theatre using local themes, actors and staff.
Leap forward to the early 1990s, when the theatre emerged in its modern incarnation after a group of local citizens came together to elect a Board of Directors, establishing by-laws, attaining status as a registered not-for-profit charitable organization, and rebranding the theatre as the Port Stanley Festival Theatre (PSFT).
“Since then the theatre has gradually grown. It purchased the Village Hall building in the early 2000’s, started Youth Programming in 2000, became a fully professional Equity theatre in 2007, and has expanded its season from 84 performances to over 125,” says Joynes.
As Artistic Director, one of Joynes’ most important responsibilities is the selection of the playbill for each summer season. “The attempt is to program five distinct pieces of theatre per season that will suit our demographic/market niche while at the same time expand the breadth and variety of that programming. A variety of factors go into the mix including budget, artistic merit, availability of talent, and box office appeal,” says Joynes.
“For the past five years new play development has also been a part of this process. I read probably 40 plays a year. Some are submitted by playwrights for consideration, some are recommended by other ADs, and some are plays that have been on my radar for a number of years,” he adds.
While there are no world premieres this year, the 2015 Season offers theatre-goers plenty of variety.
Rhinestone Cowgirl: A Tribute to Dolly Parton, written, produced, and performed by Sudbury, Ontario native, Leisa Way, begins the season on May 27 and runs until June 6. “It is a tried and true musical revue which should provide a high energy start to the season,” says Joynes.
Norm Foster’s Hilda’s Yard, a 1950’s period comedy which follows the trials and tribulations of a family whose grown children have returned home to roost, runs from June 10 to July 4.
Next up is Old Wives’ Tales by Kevin Riordan, which tells the story of the relationship between a mother and daughter through a series of vignettes along the theme of “always listen to your mother,” July 8 to August 1.
Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy takes the stage August 5 to August 22. It explores long hidden mysteries, the bonds of friendship, and the wonder of stories well told. “It is a superb piece of dramatic writing which won both the Governor General’s and Chalmers Awards when it was first produced,” says Joynes.
The extended 2015 season closes with Real Estate by Allana Harkin, August 26 to September 19. The play combines the characters of a blocked writer, a guy with perfect hair, an ex-wife, and a real estate saleswoman with more enthusiasm than experience, to illustrate the perils of new beginnings and starting over.
Joynes says that PSFT casts are usually made up of a combination of new faces discovered through an audition process and actors whom he has worked with in the past, both in Port Stanley and at other theatres. “I usually direct three of the five plays. The first show — usually a buy in — often comes in already directed before it reaches us, and the remaining play is directed by a guest director. In 2015 this will be Matthew Gorman who has been a member of our acting company for a number of years,” says Joynes. “Port Stanley is a beautiful destination and we look to have our patrons enjoy the whole village experience,” says Joynes. “The lake is great, with two beaches. There’s wonderful accommodation and dining available, a rich arts community, and here at the Theatre we work really hard to produce top notch professional entertainment.” Port Stanley Festival Theatre 2015 Season subscriptions are now available.
Port Stanley Festival Theatre
6-302 Bridge Street, Port Stanley ON
Rick Young, whose work has been published in local, regional and national print and online publications, was the Managing Editor, Publisher and founder of The Beat Magazine, an independent London arts magazine, from 2009 to 2014.