On the Road: Regional Summer Theatre

Written by Jane Antoniak

It is time to get out the picnic basket and set out on the road for regional summer theatre. Whether you are looking for new Canadian plays or you are ready to revive The Time Warp, theatres across Southern Ontario have some interesting stage offerings this summer. We are especially excited about curling in Blyth, selling the family farm in Port Stanley, singing and dancing our way to Petrolia and, most of all, packing toast for a trip to the Stratford Festival.

Blyth Festival Theatre

As the Olympics, the Brier, Scotties Tourn­a­­ment of Hearts, and World Curling Champion­ships are still on some of our minds from the recent winter, let us first go to The New Canadian Curling Club at the Blyth Festival. Our region has produced some fine curlers. Most recently, Mark Ideson of London skipped the mixed wheelchair curling team to a bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang. If you now are in curling withdrawal, a trip to Blyth (about 90 minutes north of London on Highway 4) is in order, to see The New Canadian Curling Club. This comedy is about new Canadians learning “our” sport (with props to Scotland). It opens June 22.

“I’ve been working on this script for a few years now, but I had no idea when I started that 2018 would be the year we all caught curling fever,” says playwright Mark Crawford. “I put a spin on this iconically Canadian activity by creating a team of four recent immigrants. I think audiences will have a great time laughing along with these unlikely athletes as they learn the sport, and will enjoy following their struggles and stories of life off the ice. And on the hottest days of summer, it’ll be nice to escape to a curling rink … even if it is on a stage.”

As any curler knows, the winners buy the losers a beer after the game. The best place in Blyth to do that is at the impressive Cowbell Brewery, just down the road from the theatre on Highway 4. Cowbell also offers a full menu for lunch and dinner. The charcuterie boards are lovely and feature Blyth Farm cheese.

If you are staying in the Blyth area (after enjoying those Cowbell beers) then try to catch the remount of The Pigeon King. Gil Garratt, Artistic Director at the Blyth Festival, says the phones kept ringing for ticket orders for weeks after the play closed last year, so they knew they had to bring it back. “The Pigeon King has become a bit of a phenomenon for Blyth Festival. This will be the complete original cast, same amazing original music, same thrilling story of one of the wildest frauds in Canadian history. This project is singular, created from dozens and dozens of interviews with farmers, investigators, journalists, lawyers. We went to the source, and what we came back with is not to be missed. Every Canadian should know this story,” says Garratt. The Pigeon King will be embarking on a national tour starting in 2019. The Blyth production runs June 1 to 15.

Port Stanley Festival Theatre

Over on the shores of Lake Erie in Elgin County there is another new Canadian play, Buying the Farm, by Gemini award winner Shelley Hoffman and her partner Stephen Sparks. It runs July 4 to 21. Simon Joynes, Artistic Director, says, “We are trying to find plays that speak specifically to Southwestern Ontario. For us that means perspectives on rural Ontario, which is also important to urban people in this area, as we are surrounded by rural lands.” This is a world premier for the play, part of a program by PSFT to develop one new Canadian play each season. Joynes says that the theme of urban sprawl bridges the rural-urban divide. It is also, he says, a uniquely romantic comedy, as sparks fly between characters from the rural and urban sectors.

Victoria Playhouse Petrolia

The quaint Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia is the first regional summer theatre to open in our region. Its mix of Broadway remounts, musicals and tribute shows began in late April. This season has a variety of music-based shows including Shirley Valentine and the songs of John Denver. The Playhouse puts a bow on summer with East Coast Kitchen Party. Think fun and toe-tapping entertainment aimed at boomers. “The 2018 season is all about spirit — the spirit of joy, laughter, song and faith. That energy, alongside empowering entertainment, takes your whole being to another level where you are full of joy,” says David Hogan, Co-Artistic Director.

Stratford Festival

On the topic of taking things to another level, The Stratford Festival is staging the international cult hit of the 1970s, The Rocky Horror Show. One can only imagine how exciting this may become, as audience members interact with the stage as they have at midnight screenings for decades. Is Stratford ready for toasts with toast in the ultimate parody of the horror genre? Donna Feore, director and choreographer of The Rocky Horror Show, says bring it on, but respect the actors. “Lots of people have been wanting the Festival to do The Rocky Horror Show for a long time, including me, and so I’m thrilled to be directing and choreographing the production. Reaction has been tremendous and has come from a really wide range of age groups, from millennials who have only seen the cult film through Baby Boomers who grew up loving the show on stage and on screen. We are hoping people will bring all the enthusiasm they are accustomed to bringing to the film — with one exception: we have to keep our actors safe so nothing can be thrown at the stage. But we are encouraging and expecting costumes and dancing and shouting.”

I guess that means no toast tossing but, frankly, this promises to be the hit of the summer. The play opens June 2 with Dan Chameroy as Dr. Frank N. Furter and Steve Ross as the narrator. He will be sure to help you remember that it is just a step to the left.

About the author

Jane Antoniak

Jane Antoniak is a longtime contributor to Eatdrink, sharing her passion for food, drink, travel and the arts through her writing, while always connecting with the people she meets along the way. She is also Manager, Communications & Media Relations, at King’s University College in London.