Simon says…

(September 17, 2021)

Simon says…

Having Your Say

Well, it’s a tough one, isn’t it?

What do you do when you have an opinion that seems to run counter to popular opinion?

Say this opinion that you have has become very important to you, that it has come to represent in some way a summation of all of the ills of society. Maybe you have sought proof to back your opinion up, to legitimize it or to support it, while perhaps not acknowledging that proof can be found on the internet to support almost any opinion. You might be feeling a little “out there”, ostracized, isolated, even victimized, and so you are drawn to “like minded” individuals. These individuals may, or may not, believe exactly the same things as you, in the larger sense, but they agree with you when it comes to the specifics of your particular opinion, and you are encouraged … you are no longer alone.

Now, when I was a kid there was a saying, and it went like this, “Beware the company you keep.” Back in the day, it meant don’t hang out in the smoking area or spend too much time leaning against the ledge outside the Chinese restaurant downtown, but in the current circumstance it means don’t be so committed to your opinion that you find yourself standing next to some guy with a megaphone hurling abuse at health care workers and patients alike in front of your local hospital because you think your freedom is being curtailed.

Don’t get me wrong, I defend your right to hold that opinion even if I don’t agree with it, I even defend your right to express it publicly in the form of a protest, but things have stepped over a line when healthcare workers are advised to not wear their scrubs going into work lest they come under fire, and patients need a police escort to receive treatment.

I do get it. We’re all tired of this thing. We’re sick of making compromises, of not knowing what tomorrow will bring, and many of us are quick to anger. There is no question that some of the rules, regulations, and protocols have been restrictive and seemingly non-sensical. They have certainly been inconsistent across the region, the province, and the country, but that doesn’t give us license to give rein to our inner thug.

So, have your say, its your right, but seriously, be careful of the company you keep.

After all, when you look in the mirror you want to like the guy you see looking back at you.


(August 31, 2021)

Simon says…

I Love Fall, But …

I love the fall, even way back when, when it was the dreaded harbinger of another school year, I loved the fall. I was never good with change as a kid, so the thought of a whole new set of teachers all of whom would probably think I was an idiot, of new classes, a new locker, new back-to-school clothes guaranteed to be as unfashionable as last year’s set, put me into a state of undeniable dread. But then there were the school supplies, the duo-tangs each still unsullied by the grime of academic striving, the papermate medium-nib pens, the textbooks, or the possibility of a new teacher who would recognize my obvious potential. For each thing I was worried about, there seemed to be a counterbalancing upside.

Any way you look at it, it seems to me, fall is a time of contradictions. Just when you think you’re ready for the slightly shortened days, the hint of coolness in the morning air, the clarity of view as you look out across the lake, fall turns around and hits you right between the eyes with a day that wouldn’t be out of place in the middle or July, muggy, hazy, and so humid you feel like you’re walking through a sponge. So, I guess one way to deal with fall is to expect the unexpected. Don’t make any extreme choices. Keep the flipflops on hand but maybe search out those rubber boots. Don’t switch out your summer tires just yet, but maybe spend a little time burrowing through the detritus in the corner of the garage to locate the winter set.

Here at the theatre, fall has us suitably on our toes. For one thing, we’re running a summer season in the fall, what’s next a Christmas concert in the spring? Normally, by this time we’re wrapping up a 16-week summer season, taking a quick breath, and then planning out 2022’s summer programming and putting the finishing touches on next year’s budget. We have to do all that this fall as well, but I’ve got to say, it’s a little more complicated than usual … on the upside, a summer season in 2022 seems likely, but as to what its going to look like? Well, its fall.

Plan for anything. One thing for sure, its great to have life back on our stage! Its great to have people sitting in those seats, even in limited numbers, and its great to have live artists telling stories once again.

As for fall? Well, I’ve got a pair of shorts in one hand, and a snow suit in the other. I’ve got it covered!


(July 27, 2021)

Simon says…

Here We Go!

So, just to clear up a matter of timing. I did not write this column today or even yesterday. In fact, I wrote it on July 16th, just as we went into Phase 3 of the Ontario Re-opening plan, so some of what I’m saying is tinged by hope and the first glimmers of optimism, not unlike the feelings I harbored as my final day of high school approached way back when wheels were square, and sitcoms had laugh tracks. You know what I mean, that feeling, that against all odds we might just get out of this. Well, that’s where I’m at. I’m a bit giddy, cautiously giddy, but giddy, nonetheless.

Its not like there haven’t been good things about this whole situation. My wife and I have spent more time together in the past 16 months than we have in years, and we’re still (mostly) speaking to each other. Our daughter is only a little more anxious to escape to university than she might otherwise be, and Ruby our black lab has reveled in constant companionship and regular walks. The house got some much-needed renovation, the gardens look good (Daniele’s doing, not mine I’m afraid), and I have a new deck at least half built. Having said that, I’ve sure missed some things …a good restaurant meal, hugging my mother, freedom of movement, and then there’s my work.

It’s been a challenging time for theatres, indeed for artists everywhere. Hell, it’s been tough for everyone, I know that, but theatres were one of the first things to shut down and they’ve been one of the last things to re-open. But now they are (at least I hope they are!) open. As I write this, we are putting the finishing touches to 10 weeks of planned summer programming that will take us from Mid-August until the end of October. We are not the only theatre attempting to make a tenuous re-entry into the world of live theatre. Our friends at Lighthouse down the lake in Port Dover are running in a tent, other companies have found alternate venues with all sorts of different programming. Very few of us will make much money with the limited audiences we can welcome through our doors, or tent flaps as the case may be, but we are all so very happy to be doing it. To be welcoming you back to the theatres, the galleries, the gift shops, and the restaurants that breathe life into our communities.

So, there you have it. Here we go!

It won’t be big, it won’t be flashy, but boy will it be heartfelt! There will be a combination of “bring in” and home produced, of local and of long distance, there will something borrowed, something re-visited, with artists who are both old friends and new. It will be safe, it will be happy, it will be a celebration!



(July 1, 2021)

Simon says…

I don’t suppose it’s the first time that politics has raised its ugly head when it comes to Canada Day and the celebrations therein. However, given the current context, the way many Canadians are feeling about our country and the horrors that have recently come to light, I find it somewhat shocking and more than a little saddening. I’m not naïve about the political process, in fact for the most part I think it works pretty well in this country, but I’m having second thoughts about it all while I view the latest “who loves Canada most” debate along with the declaration that those who choose not to fly the flags and set off the fireworks are somehow anti-Canadian and unpatriotic. Let’s face it, patriotism unadorned and strident, is at its best a little simplistic, and at its worst can conveniently obscure the truth … the truth of the past, and the truth of the present.

We don’t need to obscure truth right now, we need to recognize it. We need to think about those children. We need to think about what it would be like if someone banged on our doors, wrestled our children away from us, and left us with the knowledge that we might never see them again. We need to know that that is what happened to thousands of parents in a systematic way sanctioned by the government of the day, the government of this country we love. We can’t change what happened. We can’t remake history. What we can do, is acknowledge it, mourn it, and do our very best to make it right. That’s a process that can start with each and every one of us, and it can start today on Canada Day.

So, this year, I’m going to hold off on the flag waving. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my country and much of what it stands for, and it doesn’t mean I’m some kind of left wing nutjob radical. What it means is that I think a more muted celebration is in order this time around … after all, there’s been a death in the family.


(June 16, 2021)

Simon says…

On Being a Dad.

On the evening of January 6th, 2003, I pulled my pick-up over to the side of the road and looked down into the Lynn Valley. I could see the lights from scattered farmhouses twinkling in the cold clear air, and it calmed me somewhat as I tried to pull together the fragments of thought that pinballed around my brain. I had just become a father, of that most alien of creatures … a daughter. I wasn’t really worried you understand, partly because I was ridiculously naïve, and partly because I was pretty sure that by proving that we could keep a dog alive for a year or so, my wife and I were obviously more than qualified to take on the task of parenthood. The fact that the aforementioned dog ignored any directive, poohed and puked indiscriminately, disappeared regularly, and pretty much ran us ragged didn’t bother me, I mean, you can reason with a child, right?

Well, as it happens, you can reason with a child, but apparently not until they’re quite a bit older … like maybe 18. Needless to say, I was in for a ride, a joyful, frustrating, incomprehensible, awe-inspiring, horrifying, proud, and occasionally tear-stained ride. There was the unfortunate colicky stage, a lot of yelling, some pretty funny stuff around solid food and exploding diapers, the mandatory meltdowns, nap resistance, dirt eating, first day of school, assorted Halloweens, Grade 8 graduation, boyfriends … aaaaargh, and now imminent departure, because this, you see, will be the last Father’s Day spent with a daughter who is permanently in residence. She’s off to university in the fall …

It’s all gone by surprisingly quickly, it really doesn’t seem that long ago that I looked down into the wintery valley with a vague sense that my life would never be the same again, that from that point forward I would no longer be the most important life in my life. It turns out that my wife and I were qualified to take on the task of parenthood … at least I think we were, I hope we were, and that dog I mentioned? It never really did what it was told or stayed close to home, but it lived a happy life and made it to 15. We kind of made it all up in the end, the way I suspect that most parents do. Sometimes you take the path of least resistance, sometimes you take a stand, and sometimes you just buckle up throw your hands up in the air and you hope for the best.

I had a farmer neighbor who when he heard we were expecting said, “Well, I hope you get a good one.” There’s lots I could say about that, but with all the ins and outs, the ups and downs, at the end of the day its best summed up when I say, “We did Jim, we got a good one, we really did!”

Happy Father’s Day everyone.


(June 3, 2021)

Simon says…

One step closer.

I may as well come clean, confess, put my cards on the table, spill my guts, fess up.

I’ve never been very good at waiting. I want everything now. I am “patience challenged”.

I remember one childhood Christmas when, out of sheer impatience, I persuaded my siblings that it would be a great idea to wake our parents at 5:00 AM on Christmas morning … it wasn’t. Turned out my father had been up until 3:00 AM with friends putting together the train set that was to be our principal gift … there may have been alcohol involved. Lesson learned; my father not particularly festive on two hours of sleep when still possibly under the influence.

Needless to say, the circumstances that have dictated my work life for over a year now have tried my patience or would have if I in fact had any patience. We’ve made plans, created budgets, hashed out cashflow projections, then we’ve unmade those plans, created new budgets, applied for grants, been approved for grants, Yay! Found out we couldn’t do the project the grant was for, turned the grant down, Boo! Tried another plan, felt good about it, raised some funds, Thank You! More restrictions, different restrictions … another plan, and through it all we tried to remind ourselves that no matter what the frustrations, we were one step closer.

And now we are. Finally. Because we have a re-opening plan, sure its missing some details, its too fast for some, too slow for others, but it’s the first time that we have what actually looks like a workable plan. For all of us. And, more importantly, we have vaccines. Like the re-opening plan, the vaccines are not to everyone’s taste, but for all of us they represent hope, a new beginning. Our hope is that we’ll be shortly able to announce a return to some kind of programming later this summer, to invite you in, to sit you down, to let you get away from it all.

We’re one step closer if we all take that one step.    It’s worth a shot!


(May 7, 2021)

Simon says…
A Time to Choose.
There comes a time in life when we start to think about what we will leave behind us. I’m not sure exactly when that time is mind you … sometime after driver’s license, marriage, children, and despair about chosen career(s) I would think. I am extremely fortunate that, despite my advancing years, I have the benefit of living parents and am able to consult with them at life’s turning points. Over the years my father has contributed his considerable wisdom on several occasions. He was in favour of driver’s licenses (although less keen on me actually driving his car), marriage, and children (except for their on-going advice seeking). As far as my career choice was concerned, he was less sure … I think he had me accurately pegged as an enthusiastic but mediocre actor whose talents would be better put to use in directing (or as he put it after I directed him, in “bossing people around”), and suggested it was a poor career choice if the accumulation of wealth was the goal.
When I spoke to my father about legacy giving, his response was unequivocal. He informed me that it was his intention to shuffle off his mortal coil at the exact moment that he spent his last dime. Now, while this is a commendable goal, not all of us are blessed with my father’s impeccable sense of timing. For the rest of us, my advice would be to plan. Give it some careful thought. Whether your recipient of choice is the theatre (we have gratefully received a number of legacy gifts), a not-for-profit service group, or the charity of your choice, there is value in knowing that you will be giving a gift to a recipient you really value and believe in, while providing clarity for your loved ones when they will be going through an undoubtably difficult time.
Most of us genuinely want to help. We want to help our families. We want to help our friends. We want to help our communities. A legacy gift, wherever you choose to send it, can provide that help.


(April 18, 2021)

Simon says…
Stepping Forward.
I did not have a particularly distinguished career in the Boy Scouts. It may have been that the 1st Ashgrove Troop was an ill-advised idea in the first place, but more than likely it was because the whole was not greater than the sum of the parts, and let’s be clear, the parts were not that great. My brother and I were two of those parts, and most of the time we spent punching each other, playing floor hockey, and trying to avoid doing helpful stuff. The Boy Scouts, however, did teach me one valuable lesson … it was about volunteering. We were on a weekend camping excursion and our beleaguered leader asked for a volunteer to dig the latrine … everyone, except me, stepped backwards. “Ahh”, I thought as I dug a woefully inadequate latrine, “to be a volunteer is to be a dupe, a patsy, the guy who is too slow to avoid the unpleasant task at hand.”
Like many organizations, here at the theatre, we are built on volunteers. Volunteers are often the first point of contact we have with patrons when they come through our doors. Volunteers sell 50/50 tickets, show patrons to their seats, and help out with concessions. They are our frontline fundraisers, our community ambassadors, and it is volunteers who make up our Board of Governors. Countless hours are gifted to the Port Stanley Festival Theatre every year by over a hundred volunteers, many who also volunteer with other organizations, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that volunteers are the glue that holds our communities together.
To be sure, it has to be a two-way street. Volunteers invest in you as an organization, and you need to invest in the volunteer. I learned early on in my time as an Artistic Director that you can never take volunteers for granted, and you should never think of them en masse. A volunteer is an individual, and woe betide the Artistic Director who forgets that vital piece of information. As individuals many volunteers have been extremely generous with opinions on my programming, my pre-show speech, my apparel, and on one memorable occasion the state of my facial hair. One volunteer (not with this theatre fortunately) reviewed each and every production with an economy worthy of Nero. At intermission, I would receive either a thumbs up or an emphatic thumbs down …
So, there you have it. Volunteers, with the ins and the outs, the ups and the downs, we literally could not do it without them. It’s got nothing to do with avoidance, or not stepping back in a timely fashion. Our volunteers always step forward and are we glad that they do!

(March 20, 2021)

Simon says …

There is a war going on in my backyard.

One side has all the advantages … local knowledge, cunning, experience, and stealth. The other side has a Labrador. It needs to be mentioned at the outset that this is a horribly one-sided conflict, in fact, to dignify it with the designation of “conflict” is a gross misuse of the word.

The stakes? Well, the stakes are the very heart of springtime, the first cheerful glimpses of the season to come, the green quickening of the very earth as it shrugs off the mortal coils of winter … I am of course speaking of that happy harbinger of sunnier days, the crocus.

Our crocuses, with one or two hardy exceptions have been chewed to a nub. No flowers, no shoots, just the heart-breaking tiny glimpses of green, cut off level with the hard earth, all that is left after the hungry squirrel has had his fill. Yes, the squirrel! An old foe its true, as our previous house had so many red squirrels living in the attic that we tried to collect rent! In vain, I might add, for the larcenous squirrel has no interest in paying a fair price for accommodation, no, he just wants to destroy Spring by eating it!

Which brings us to the Labrador. As I may have previously mentioned, the Labrador is traditionally open to eating just about everything, and Ruby the wonder dog is no exception … except for squirrels. The one time her penchant for consumption could work in our favour and she is sadly missing in action. Oh, if a squirrel is caught in the act and Ruby happens to be in the vicinity, she will make a guilty half-hearted sortie in the appropriate direction, but her pace is such that the squirrel in question will die of old age long before she reaches it, and I could swear her bark speaks more of friendship than it does conflict. A gentle-hearted beast it would seem …

I would despair, but one thing I know, Spring will not be denied. Crocuses are hardy little things after all, they thrive in adversity. And as for the squirrels, I think they’ll move on, if only because they’re making their friend Ruby look bad … really bad.

Happy Spring everybody!


(February 28, 2021)

Simon says…
Et tu February?
Tweaked my back this morning. Now, I am an ex-athlete, so of course this happened while engaged in a noble almost manly act, something like doing a light weight workout, or stretching … or picking up a pair of socks. Yep, socks. Now to be fair, they were winter socks, substantial wooly winter socks, so heavy socks … for socks. It is telling that after this happened my first instinct was not to unleash a stream of unsavory vocabulary at the socks in question, after all blaming inanimate objects for my own shortcomings has become something of a “go to” response to adversity. No, my first thought, as I waited for my back to unclench to the point where I could take a second stab at the offending socks, was “figures, it’s February!”
I like to think that I am a fair man. This may come as a surprise to co-workers, family both near and far, and my dog, but I like to think it just the same, and as I had time on my hands, incapacitated as I was, sitting on the edge of the bed for the foreseeable future, I thought, “is February getting a bum rap? Is it fair? Is February really as bad as all that?” Maybe it’s just me. Maybe February isn’t the most villainous of months, at least not to everyone. It is true that February does hit just when the novelty of winter snows, arctic inspired winds, and nostril freezing cold has long since worn off. That your car starts to resemble nothing so much as a crumbling pile of salt and dirt. That the zipper on your only warm winter jacket seems to consistently jam up in that frustrating cross-toothed kind of way that no amount of cursing or tugging can free up so that you have to cast dignity aside and ask your wife for help like some helpless nine-year-old … but I digress.
Perhaps, and I’m just playing devil’s advocate here you understand, but perhaps there is an upside to February. After all, its short. Only 29 days even in those freakish leap years, and it contains Groundhog Day. I mean what’s not to like about a day dedicated to the superstitious predicting of climate based on the questionable shadow casting properties of a mistempered captive rodent? Then there’s Valentine’s Day … a happy time for singles everywhere! Although it must be said, a formal day set aside to celebrate love, to show your loved one how much you truly, truly love and appreciate her … she really is good about the zipper thing, after all it must be tempting to leave me there by the back door cursing and thrashing about even if only to see how it all turns out … is a great thing.
Whatever else is true about February, here’s the kicker, here’s the undeniable one great thing about this most maligned of months … it leads us into March. March, in like a lion out like a lamb or in like a lamb and out like an aardvark, I forget which. March, when Caesar met his deserved demise, when there is the possibility of not needing to where those darn socks, and when according to the aforementioned rodent spring will be upon us!


(February 9, 2021)

Simon says…

I’m assuming that everyone is familiar with the “good news, bad news” kind of situation. As in the good news is that my new laptop has much better camera definition, the bad news is that now everybody on ZOOM can see my jowls, or the good news is that in the current lockdown everyone can spend more time with their nearest and dearest in the security of their own home, the bad news is that everyone can spend time with their nearest and dearest … well, you get the picture.

Almost a year ago we made the hard choice to begin canceling programming here at the theatre, at first it was pre-season rental events, but eventually we had to pull the plug on the entire summer season. The good news was that we’d actually sold nearly $220,000 worth of tickets and that we were on track to break box office records, the bad news was that we had to reach out to each and everyone of those ticket holders and tell them about the season cancelation. Many patrons quite understandably needed a refund, some generous souls ($20,000 worth) donated the cost of their tickets to the theatre, and some deferred their tickets to the following year (2021) because they believed strongly that we would all get through this thing and our theatre would come back stronger than ever.

And … now we get back to that good news bad news thing. The good news is that we have a 2021 season planned, budgeted, and absolutely ready to go, the bad news is that it is a scaled down season, for all sort of reasons, that is very different from the season we had promised. Because of this, and because we are being forced to transition to a new box office software provider, we will be calling all of our deferred ticket patrons. We will be asking them to either accept a refund or make a donation of their ticket dollars, thus allowing us to make a clean transition to the coming season while feeling that we are staying true to all of you.

The good news? With any luck at all we’ll see you this summer as we welcome you back through our doors!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and scuff up the lens on that laptop camera …


(January 20, 2021)

Simon says …
It seems to me, that if January is good for anything, and I’m not sure that it is … I mean mostly its about realizing that the window you thought you’d fixed in the fall is still offering only a token resistance to the elements, that the well-earned “treats” you consumed in December are conspiring to make your jeans tight, your digestion uncertain, and your silhouette unflattering, and that the days while ostensibly staying lighter longer, are still undeniably grey, cold, and bleak, as they encourage nothing so much as hibernation … but, if it is good for anything, its good for rumination.
I have been ruminating on the powers of positive thought, which may come as a bit of a surprise having read the above. Nevertheless, positive thought and the vagaries therein have occupied me as I contemplate January from the comfort of my couch … or as my wife calls it, my “den”. Once again, it seems like we are in a “hurry up and wait” scenario, and once again it’s probably a good idea to find as much positive about that as we can. For instance … I’m getting very good at coming up with potential summer programs (three at last count) and corresponding budgets, and I’m learning a whole bunch about cashflow projections!
How do I stay positive you ask? Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that it has to do with personal history, with challenges you’ve faced in the past and how you’ve overcome them. What lurks in my sketchy past? What sordid secret governs how I face adversity to this very day? It’s very simple. I am a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and not only that, I became a fan in 1968, the very year that they began their current run of ineptitude and failure. I have learned to find the positive in the bleakest of circumstances. I do it at the beginning of every season, I’m doing it even now! So, January in lockdown, do your worst! I have lived through losing a lead in the 7th game of the first round to the deservedly despised Boston Bruins and lived to tell the tale. We will overcome! After all, the Leafs just signed Joe Thornton and he comes from St Thomas. Synchronicity!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of positive thinking.


(December 22, 2020)

Simon says…

So, let’s get something out of the way at the get go. I am not always a “glass half full” kind of guy.

In fact, I’m more like a “where the heck is the glass? Is there anything even in the glass? Oh look, I dropped the glass and its broken into tiny little pieces on the ground, one of those pieces will probably stick in my foot!” kind of guy.

Let’s just say I’ve had a tough time walking on the sunny side of the street for the last little while, but on the bright side … Christmas is coming, and with Christmas comes good food, possibly a cocktail or 2, thoughts of family, and gifts, which in my case means new socks!

Now, I don’t know at what point in a person’s life gift socks are received with rejoicing instead of disappointment, but I have come to appreciate the simple pleasures of slipping into a pair of new socks. I’m going to hoard them, save them for a rainy day, and when it really seems that the planets are aligned against me, I’m going to fight back with a colourful foot-hugging wool blend. So, onwards and upwards! A brave new year! May all your glasses be half full …with socks.

Now if I could only figure out why all my new socks are kind of damp, and why they smell of dog …


(November 18, 2020)

Simon says…

Here we go again.
So, there are hazards involved when you own a Labrador (or in our case a dog that is labradorish) and, as the average Labrador doesn’t come with an owner’s manual, you are largely left to discover these hazards through trial and error … mostly error. Now if there is anyone out there who is thinking of adding one of these noble beasts to their family, I’m going to give you a little heads-up. Labradors like to eat, a statement that is an understatement of mind- numbing proportions … its like saying mosquitoes can be annoying, or that being able to breath is good. Not only do they like to eat, they like to eat everything. They like to eat things that would make any other animal gag, and if they decide not to eat it, they’ll probably decide to roll in it.
Which brings me to horse manure …
About two weeks ago Ruby the wonder dog (the Labrador in question) and I were out for our daily perambulation. It was a bright, clear, and unseasonably warm fall day and my heart was full of optimism as I scanned the blue heavens for sign of interesting birds. Had I not been so naively occupied, I would not have been caught unawares, I would have noticed the tell-tale signs of the “questing Labrador” … the twitching nose, the wagging tale, the hint of drool. Ruby had honed in on the mother lode, a sun-warmed, slightly disguised by dead leaves, perfectly aged pile of horse manure. The rest of the story was a foregone conclusion … she perused, she tasted, she ate, she rolled ecstatically, and I, in my haste to prevent further carnage, stepped in it!
Now, my short-term memory is starting to decline, Ruby’s is not.
Yesterday we walked the same piece of trail, and you guessed it, a moment of inattention and Ruby

was once again a happy, happy, smelly dog … and I stepped in it

Which about sums up our current predicament doesn’t it? This pandemic … an early sense of optimism, tempered by a dawning reality, a passage of time, a moment of inattention … and we’ve stepped in it again.

And now what? Wipe off your shoe my friends. Wipe off your shoe, forgive your Labrador, and look for those blue skies once again.
Hmmm. Maybe a lapdog next time …

(November 9, 2020)

Simon says…

Reflections on Programming

When I was a kid growing up in rural Halton County, I spent what felt like months in the act of haying. To those who have never hayed it looks like a benign enough past time. Fresh air, sunshine, the sweat of honest labour, it seems so refreshingly wholesome somehow, with clear progress and its associated satisfaction at the end of every day. The truth is somewhat different, of course, as many of us know, and can be defined by one word: “chaff”. Chaff is the fine barbed particles and dust-like bits that fill the air as soon as hay bales start to be tossed around. It is present ALL THE TIME when haying, in the breezy field and the stifling haymow alike, it sticks to that “honest sweat” we talked about and creates an intensity of itch that I have not experienced since.

As you can see, I have a clear relationship with haying, and so when playwright Dan Needles in last season’s “Ed’s Garage” allows his title character to weigh in on the effects of the “oversized round hay bale” on the rural status quo, I can immediately identify. The importance of this “identification”, this seeing an aspect of ourselves in a character portrayed on stage, gives us a “way in” to the play, to the story the playwright is trying to tell, and to the tribal experience of watching that play in the company of fellow audience members. It’s not that we can’t understand or enjoy a story that doesn’t reflect our experience in some way, it’s just that when it does, it allows us to see our own experiences from a slightly different perspective, and in the hands of a talented playwright that is a powerful tool indeed.

I’ve always felt that good programming should be a combination of stories that reflect our community in some way, and stories that may also challenge the way our community views the world. The aforementioned “Ed’s Garage”, “Buying the Farm” by Shelley Hoffman and Steven Sparks, and Norm Foster’s “Mending Fences” all reflect a comic rural perspective. The same could be said of Ken Cameron’s “Harvest” and Michael Healey’s award-winning play “The Drawer Boy”, and yet they push an audience a little further from their comfort zone. In “Harvest” the characters are dealing with the devastating destruction of their family home by its use as a “grow-op”, so although the piece is comedic, it has a darker side. “The Drawer Boy”, too, has its comic side, but ultimately draws us down a path that examines the effects of both violence and mental illness.

Laughter is a great medicine, and heaven knows it’s a medicine sorely needed in our current circumstance, but it’s good to think as well, and a good play often allows us both. As for haying? Well, I’m glad to say that the closest I’ve come to it of late is in watching “Ed’s Garage” at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre.


(October 8, 2020)

Simon says…

Fall update

This time last year we had just concluded the most successful season in our 42 year history, followed by a vibrant Playwrights’ Festival that saw public reading of both “Smarty Pants” by Shelley Hoffman and Steven Sparks and “Our House” by first time playwright Murray Furrow. We had managed to pay down most of the debt on our building and had managed to bolster both building and operations reserve funds as a hedge against possible “rainy days”. Well you know what they say: “Sometimes it never rains but it pours!”

This Fall is obviously a little different, but we have been able to cling to some normalcy. There was no summer season for us this year, but we were able to invite 45 patrons into the theatre for a live reading of Jamie Williams’ “Pinkerton Comes to Prospect” in a socially-distanced and somewhat reduced Playwrights’ Festival. It was great to have something live back on the stage again! Thanks to government wage subsidy programs we have been able to keep our core group of employees at work as we make plans for the future.

In other years we would be announcing next year’s playbill at about this time and we would have approved a budget for next year as we start to assess this year’s financial year end. Well that process has certainly been “interesting”, but I’m happy to say that we have struck a budget for next year and we have a season in mind. We’re going to delay the announcement of that season for a while yet as we see what the next few months bring, but be assured that we’ll be actively planning for that season launch, and it will only be a matter of time until we invite patrons back through our doors. When we do, we are confident that our patrons will be safe and comfortable, and that safety protocols put in place will ensure the safety of all.

Huge “thank yous” to our hard-working staff, a dedicated Board of Governors, and to all our supporters out there in the community of Port Stanley. We couldn’t do it without you.


(September 30)

Simon says…

Where do new plays come from?

In the 15 years that I’ve been the Artistic Director at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre we have produced 72 plays within the structure of our summer programming. OK, they have not all been plays, strictly speaking. 16 of them were concert- based productions with only loose connecting material that linked the musical content, but that still leaves 56 plays. Any way you look at it, 56 plays is a lot of characters, a lot of words, and an almost inconceivable amount of work. And here’s the kicker … you only get paid for that work if the play you write actually gets produced. If it doesn’t hit the stage, all you get for your trouble is a pile of paper that sits in a drawer somewhere. Most playwrights have a few of these “desk drawer masterpieces’ tucked away … I have three of them myself. So, this playwrighting thing is a bit of a gamble, and really it’s kind of a minor miracle that we get any new plays at all.

Of the 56 plays I spoke of, 12 were premiere productions that went through our new play development process. In this process, we first of all identify likely plays that we think will fit into our programming, we then assist the playwright with dramaturgical advice during the re-write phase (most plays come to the stage through a progression of multiple “versions”), and finally we workshop the piece with actors and present a public reading. The public reading provides the final piece of the puzzle … you, the audience. Without an audience, there is no play.

Any play is a partnership between the playwright, the actors, and the audience, and its vital for the playwright to participate in this partnership before he finalizes what hopefully will go into rehearsals for a full production. I think a few of the “regulars”, patrons who have faithfully attended multiple Playwrights’ Festival readings, might feel that it is the audience feedback session that is the crucial component for the play’s development, but truth be told, the playwright gets most of the information he needs from simply sitting in an audience and gauging responses moment to moment as his play unfolds.

We hope to produce at least two plays next season that will have come through our new play development program, and if we do, you’ll now know a little more about where they came from. Its not an easy gig, this playwright thing, and just remember next time you enjoy an actor’s work onstage … without the playwright’s work that actor wouldn’t have a whole lot to say.

(September 8, 2020)

Simon says…

Planning for the Future

So … you’re standing backstage in a theatre, you’re not sure which theatre, you just know it’s a theatre. It’s dark, you can hear the sounds of an audience, maybe they sound friendly, maybe they don’t. There is somebody, perhaps an assistant stage manager, pushing you towards the stage insisting that you are late. A play is about to begin and apparently you are in it, but you don’t know the play, you don’t know your lines, you don’t even know what role you are playing. But it’s so ingrained, “the show must go on”! You are in a blind panic, but you step into the lights regardless, as the lights hit you, you glance down and … you are naked.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a description of the classic “actor’s nightmare”, and it often occurs during tech week or at a particularly stressful time in the rehearsal period as your subconscious tries to deal with the stress and nerves that can surround the phenomena of live performance. And aside from the “naked” part it describes pretty well the way many of us have been feeling as we try to plan for the future. Here at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre, we spent the early days of the pandemic reacting to the situation. We focussed on following health guidelines, we started working from home, Zoom became our new friend, and reluctantly we began the process of dismantling our off-season programing and the wonderful season we had planned for the summer of 2020. We were in damage control mode as we contacted ticket holders, subscribers, sponsors, and renters, and tried to come to terms with the fact that our revenue stream had been reduced to a trickle, and that our fiscal situation had gone from “record breaking” to “dire” in a few short weeks.

Fortunately, we have a determined group made up of staff, volunteers, community partners, and Board members, and we have now moved beyond simple damage control. We have spoken to all our ticket holders (well nearly all), many of whom either donated the price of their tickets or deferred them until next season. We have leaned on the financial reserves prudently accumulated from a series of successful summer seasons, we’ve tried to keep in contact with our community through increased website development, and heightened use of social media, and we have begun actively planning for the future. We’ve been active in reaching out to other theatres, in looking at how we can share resources, how we can become stronger as a cultural community, and how we can try to minimize the devastating effects of this pandemic on artists everywhere. As a sector, we were one of the first to be locked down and will probably be one of the last to be fully reopened.

As we contemplate the days to come, as we conduct intensive strategic planning, and a reassessment of what it means to be a small-town summer theatre, one thing has always been certain: we will find a way. It won’t be easy and we’ll need your help. We don’t know everything we need to know, we don’t know when social distancing will no longer be needed, we don’t know when a vaccine will be available, but we do know that we’ll figure it out. We will have actors on our stage again and audiences in our seats, and we will do it in such a way that everyone will be safe. In fact, that will be happening sooner rather than later, as we’ll be staging a “socially distanced” live reading of a brand new play on Saturday September 19th as part of a reduced annual Playwrights’ Festival, and as we plan for some limited “special” programming over the winter. It will allow us to figure out safety protocols and social distancing, and to invite you back into your theatre.

So, there it is. We’re moving forward, we’re planning for a re-vitalized future. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still have that dream, but it’s a dream now not a nightmare. I’m still not quite sure what play I’m in, but thankfully, for everyone involved … I’m fully clothed.


(August 4, 2020)

Simon says

It seems a long time ago now, but last summer we had six opening nights, six first nights, six beginnings all of them followed by stories. They were all Canadian stories, and at least one of them was brand new. On each of those opening nights I would stand up onstage before things got underway and I would thank our sponsors … corporate sponsors, season sponsors, show sponsors, media sponsors, community partners … and you would always applaud their generosity, as is only right and proper.

But here’s the thing, when I made a point of thanking the Ontario Government as represented by the Ontario Arts Council the applause would be only lukewarm at best. When last I put pen to paper, I spoke about how hard it can be sometimes to ask for help, and upon reflection it seems that perhaps its also hard to appreciate that help when it’s given. It’s easy to criticize government … municipal, regional, provincial or federal, we’re pretty much equal opportunity when it comes to finding fault with those we have elected to look after our best interests. I do it all the time. In fact, I’d say I’ve almost elevated it to a full-time hobby!

The Ontario Arts Council is an arms length provincial body funded but not operated by the Ontario Government. Depending on the political stripe of that government the coffers of the Ontario Arts Council have ebbed and flowed over the years, but the talented group of people who operate the organization have always managed to keep it alive, and over the years have channeled much needed funds to many companies just like the Port Stanley Festival Theatre, and by connection, to communities like ours.

So, a heartfelt thank you to the Ontario Arts Council, thank you for over ten years of annual funding, thank you for the understanding and the moral support, and thank for helping us support the wonderful community that we are a part of here in Port Stanley, Ontario.

May our applause be long and loud!


(July 14, 2020)

Simon says…

It’s not always easy to ask for help.
I’ve never been very good at it to tell the truth. As a kid, I’d always rather muddle through on my own, hope for the best, and then be smugly pleased with myself if, against all odds, things worked out alright in the end. Maybe it was misplaced pride, childish male arrogance, or perhaps some weird post-immigration British upper lip thing but asking for help always made me feel like I was lacking something as a person. So, 9 times out of 10, I’d try to tough it out.

Needless to say, things didn’t always pan out and there were consequences … a really bad Grade 12 calculus grade, a knee injury that almost ended my competitive running career, and an attempted body-job on my Mother’s car after a fender bender that I was convinced she would never notice. She did …
Fortunately, several decades later my perspective has changed.
It’s OK to ask for help. It can be humbling sometimes, but that’s OK too, and sometimes people really want to provide that help, they want to reach out, and that “reaching out” can be the basis of a real sense of community.

As a not-for-profit we reach out all the time, to private donors, to government agencies, and to business sponsors. Over the next little while we’re going to shine a light on some of those sponsors. Some have been with us for many years, some are brand new, some, because of their own difficulties in these troubled times have had to reduce their sponsorship, and some have been able to stay the course, but without their support we would not have survived.

So, when you see us feature these folks on this page, don’t just pass them buy, give it a read, follow a link or two, and get to know some of the people who’ve decided to give back to their community.

Because, you see, we reached out, we asked for help, and they gave it…


(June 30, 2020)

Simon says …

In the spring of 1968, my life changed. I stepped off the “Empress of England” in the port of old Montreal and I learned a whole lot of things in a very short period of time.

I learned that cars could be the size of a small country, that people said, “you’re welcome” when you said, “thank you”, and that hockey was very, very important.

I learned that hockey was played on ice, that it was a game that contained a certain amount of violence, and that the Montreal Canadiens were the best hockey team in the world, ever, without exception, bar none … I learned about BBQ’s, peanut butter, and maple syrup.

I also learned that 10 year old boys didn’t go to school wearing knee socks and flannel shorts, that apparently I spoke “funny”, that I was something called a “limey”, and that at lunch recess “limeys” ate their lunches on their own.

Not every lesson I learned was an easy one, and in the beginning it sometimes seemed that the only way to fit in was to deny completely the person I was before.

But eventually I learned some perspective, that most of the changes in me would be imperceptible, gradual, and virtually painless, that there would always be people in this country who were “newer” than me and that they deserved my generosity, and that the Montreal Canadiens were not in fact the greatest hockey team in the world, and that that title (in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary) rightfully belonged to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

When I was 12 we went home to England for a visit with family in the old country. It was great, it was familiar, people drove on the right side of the road, and football (soccer) reigned supreme. But then something strange happened. I opened my mouth to say “hello” to my grandparents, and I could tell by the look in their eyes that I now spoke “funny” on that side of the Atlantic. And that was when I realised that England wasn’t home for me anymore after all. In two short years my home had become Canada. It still is.

I still talk funny on occasion, I’m still waiting for the Toronto Maple Leafs to prove their worldwide supremacy, and I still worry about the reception that some newcomers receive when they come to this country, but I am and always will be proud to be a Canadian.

Happy Canada Day everyone!

(June 19, 2020)
Simon says...
Well, I haven’t been a new father for quite a long time now. My daughter has long since progressed from letting her needs be known by crying and screaming (mostly). Nowadays communication seems to consist of a lot of “eye rolling” and an occasional plea that her mother and I stop finding ways of embarrassing her … But there is a member of our team here at the theatre, Production Manager Tony Sclafani, who is a new Dad, and I thought a few words from him might be a good reminder of what early fatherhood is all about …
“After seven years I’m a new father all over again. Benjamin Floyd Sclafani joined the world in the middle of this little pandemic we are dealing with. If anyone has ever said, “parenting is like riding a bike, you do it once you never forget”, they were wrong. Fibbers I tell you, parenting a second child is nothing like parenting the first. No two babies are alike, even in the same household. Gabriel, our first born. He was and is an incredibly sweet child, a mild mannered curious little boy. I can honestly say that first time around, all of our parenting choices worked. Now, becoming a dad to Benji has been a totally different story. Number two, this sweet second son of mine, is of a different temperament altogether. When Benji was born, I thought I had this in the bag. “I’ve done it before I can do this father thing again with ease.” HA! Nonsense! I tried using all the classic moves that worked with Gabe, and I get nothing from this kid. He can’t be in my arms, he needs to be with his mom almost 100% of the time, which, by the way isn’t easy on my wife…she needs a break too once in a while. Benji does not give breaks! So far, the only thing that I have been able to accomplish as a father with Benji is give him a good burping after a hearty meal on the bosom. Yup, Tony the “Burper”, that’s me, and if “Burper” is my title, then I will do it to the very best of my ability … and I hope that at least my many hours of whispering “dada” in his ear will get him to utter his first word and acknowledge who I really am.”
Happy Father’s Day to all!