(June 12, 2023)
(June 5, 2023)
Simon says… really?
(May 9, 2023)
(May 2, 2023)
(December 9, 2022)
Simon says…Back in the habit!
It’s funny how you can get out of the habit of doing things that for years you never thought twice about. Like sleeping …
I really don’t know what got into me. Was I visited by a rare impulse towards kindness and goodwill? Was I strangely thinking of the wellbeing of another living creature? Or did I just lose my tiny, tiny mind? I mean, after resolutely driving past that sign on my way to work for weeks, weeks I tell you … what would possess me to pull over, re-read the sign, and then drive down that ill-considered laneway. What did that sign say? What invitation to disaster did it articulate? Well, I’ll tell you … “Lab Puppies. For Sale. Cheap.”
And so, we are now the proud owners … maybe custodians is a better word … of “Sam” a 5-month-old bundle of badness who has a lot more staying power than an old guy with a bum hip!
We went through it all with Ruby the wonder dog (who is decidedly unimpressed), but that was nearly 8 years ago, and there’s no question about it, we are out of the habit.
Out of the habit. After an extended period of limited production and work from home many of us here at the theatre found we’d got out of the habit when we embarked on the 2022 summer season. I don’t think we were alone in this regard. Like long dormant laptops we pressed the reset button and arthritically lurched back to life, only to find that a whole bunch of stuff that always seemed to take care of itself suddenly required thought. We may never forget how to ride a bicycle, but apparently, we do forget a few things about producing live theatre.
Fortunately, it all came back to us, or most of it anyway. What didn’t come back to us, at least not in the pre-pandemic numbers of our dreams, was our audience … Subsequently, the entertainment industry has been involved in a lot of discussion, research, and hand wringing, but personally, I don’t think it’s very complicated. Partly, there was a certain hesitation around going back into crowded indoor spaces. There was also a tendency to “wait and see”, which meant that subscription sales were down, I mean who wants to deal with refunds if a show gets cancelled, and then there was the question of habit. Like a whole bunch of other things, people had got out of the habit of going to the theatre.
Now, we are back at it! We’ve got a whole bunch of off-season rental programming happening, a 2023 summer season on sale, and gift certificates starting to fly out the door as the Holiday Season is upon us. So, get back in the habit. Come back through our doors, in the company of friends, and let us take you away with music well played and stories well told.
And as for me, well I have to figure out a “Sam” proof place to put a Christmas Tree, because habit or not, one thing I haven’t forgotten … 5-month-old labs, they like to chew.
(November 28, 2022)
Simon says … Celebration
I love Christmas. I always have. When I was a kid, it was ridiculous. I would start out counting the days, and then as it got closer the countdown would get more complicated as I broke it down to hours and then minutes, until finally I was lying in my bed on Christmas Eve vibrating with excitement.I’m a little more sensible about it now, my countdown is a little less frantic, I’m secure in the knowledge that Christmas will indeed occur even if I am a little more restrained prior to its arrival.And, as I have grown older, new traditions have been established. I’ve been working in Port Stanley now for 17 years, which means my daughter Fiona was three years old when I brought her to her first Dicken’s Day Parade, and we’ll be there again this year. Another tradition that seems to have taken hold over the last few years is our “Crooner Christmas Show”.Once again, in 2022, we’ll be hosting Rick Kish and Connor Boa along with the Neven Campbell trio and a surprise guest vocalist for two concerts of stylish music on Saturday December 10th.
It’s a wonderful way to welcome the holidays, and tickets are going fast.
Hope to see you there!
(November 5, 2022)
Simon says … giving
I don’t know why certain times of the year have been deemed appropriate times of the year to be generous. Sometimes it’s tied to an event or a celebration. Christmas for example seems to be fertile ground for fundraising activities. Groundhog Day? Perhaps not so much, although personally I tend to be feeling pretty generous if some benevolent rodent has forecast the end of a long hard winter. Sometimes it’s tied to year end, or maybe tax time. There are benefits to be earned after all.
Perhaps with the Holiday Season it’s related to an overall sense of wellbeing, or maybe the quest for some much-needed good karma if the approaching family get together becomes fractious to the extreme! I’ve found that I’ve now got to the point where I’m far more interested in giving gifts than I am in receiving them. Don’t get me wrong, I still like receiving a well-chosen gift, it’s just that it doesn’t get me worked up to the level of excited hysteria which marked my boyhood Christmas mornings!
Any way you look at it, the Holiday Season is a time when not-for-profit organizations hope for donations and support. So, I encourage all and sundry to think about giving back to their communities, perhaps to the hospital foundation, or the foodbank, or if you are so inclined to the Port Stanley Festival Theatre’s fill the tree campaign beginning on November 1st.
(October 31, 2022)
Simon says… Learning curve
I have a confession to make.
When I started this job 17 years ago, I was scared to death. I mean I was pretty sure I had some qualifications, but I was equally pretty sure that those qualifications were, how can I put this … somewhat suspect, sketchy, incomplete … yes, incomplete is good.
To be fair, the Port Stanley Festival Theatre was then just on the cusp of becoming a fully professional theatre and couldn’t really afford to hire a rock star Artistic Director with an overflowing resume. So, instead, they took a chance on someone who was perhaps more a guy who sang in the shower, who’d been around for a while, knew small towns and summer theatres, and above all wanted to come in off the road.
Mostly its worked out OK. To be sure, there were lots of ups and downs along the way, some shows I shouldn’t have programmed, budgets that didn’t balance, and worries in the wee hours, but so far, I’ve managed to keep my head above water. In part, it’s because I was willing to work hard while I was figuring it out, and hard work can go a long way, but mostly it was because I got to work with some really great people, and some of those people were willing to give me a chance.
On October 24th there were a bunch of folks around here who were chosen for important new jobs, jobs that will have a lot to do with how our day-to-day lives will play out over the next few years. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of municipal politics, perhaps because the issues are not always that grand … zoning bylaws, paid parking, and garbage collection don’t exactly have the same cachet as immigration quotas, the national economy, and foreign policy … or perhaps because the people involved are our friends and neighbours, and its hard for us to re-adjust our perceptions of them and to suddenly see them as politicians. It’s also tempting to be extremely critical of these friends and neighbours and, social media being what it is, to do so with anonymity, cruelty, and a sense of entitlement.
Now, the people in question may not be the people you would have chosen to represent your interests in the municipal arena, they may not, to your way of thinking be particularly qualified to take on that job. Or maybe, you didn’t vote at all, as the largest percentage of us don’t when it comes to municipal politics. Regardless of the circumstances, the possibly dubious qualifications, and the vagaries of the outcome, this is the way our system works, and at the very least it is a system that allows us to exercise choice and to voice our opinions. In our society we are allowed, nay encouraged, to be critical of our elected officials, and personally I think that’s a very good thing. The only thing that I would suggest over the next little while, is that we withhold some of that criticism when it comes to the friends and neighbours who have had the ambition, the temerity, and the bravery to put themselves forward in the service of their community. Not forever, you understand, just until they find their feet, just until they get up to speed, just until they understand how truly fortunate they are that they were given a chance … which is the most that any of can ask.
(October 21, 2022)
Simon says … Improv!
So, in 1996 I was in Thunder Bay Ontario performing in the Magnus Theatre production of “The
Mystery of Irma Vep”. The show was a two-hander (two actors) and between the two of us we
played about fifteen characters including men, women, supernatural beings, and in my case even
a werewolf. To accomplish this, we had to undergo somewhat miraculous costume changes, the
longest of which was about 30 seconds … we had to increase the volume of the underscoring
music to cover the sound of ripping Velcro!
Now, while these costume changes were orchestrated within an inch of their lives, and both
actors had the assistance of a “dresser”, the chances of disaster were high. One night while I was
transforming into my werewolf character onstage, the inevitable occurred. My werewolf
transformation was intended to be fairly snappy … fall down behind the couch while writhing
theatrically, put on the mask, grab a couple of hairy gloves velcroed to the back of an armchair,
howl at the moon, giving my castmate time to make his change backstage, and then exit as he
makes his entrance and confronts me.
On this night, however, I could hear panicked muttering from offstage, with a deep sense of
misgiving I completed my transformation, howled at the moon and waited, and waited, and
waited some more … no entrance from my colleague. Now my werewolf had no lines you
understand, he didn’t speak, he just howled, briefly and left. On this night he howled, he howled
some more, he growled a bit, he waited … he whined, scratched himself, chased his tale briefly,
and in a moment of sheer desperation peed on the back of the couch to kill some more time.
After what seemed like hours my colleague arrived onstage, but not before I had assumed what I
thought was an appropriately growly voice and proceeded to bemoan the curse of being a
werewolf, complain about my fleas, touch upon the joys of chasing cats, and, well you know …
On November 26th you will have the opportunity to see some folks (unlike my poor werewolf)
who actually know how to improvise. Do they ever! Reid Janisse and his troupe of comic
geniuses will create an evening of laughter out of thin air (aided by audience suggestions) in a
cavalcade of improv games, sketches, and hilarity.
It really is not to be missed!
Hope to see you there.
(October 7, 2022)
Thanks again …
I think that once one achieves a certain age (not sure that its an achievement really, more like a happenstance), it becomes very easy to look back fondly at “the good old days”. Now my question about the “good old days” is, that while they are unquestionably “old”, were they in fact all that “good”? Is it not more likely that the ills of yesterday have faded in our memories leaving the positive stuff glowing like a sunset over a nostalgic vista, a sunset that seems more vivid, more inspiring somehow (probably because our vision was better way back when!). After all,
when I look at Ruby the wonder dog and harken back to her puppyhood it’s very easy to remember how cute she was, how entertaining, how full of promise. It’s harder to remember the legion of chewed socks and expensive running shoes, not to mention the four weeks that we waged war on an insidious intestinal parasite … suddenly, Ruby is not looking like such a great bet. It’s the same with kids. Okay, not the sock chewing and the intestinal parasite, but there was a lot of yelling now I come to think of it, and a lot of sleep deprivation. Its almost like nature, by way of our faulty memories is protecting us from the past. I mean, who would have more than
one child if we could instantly remember the truth about having the first one. I guess its all about preserving the future of the species. That’s all well and good, but the collateral damage is this whole nonsense about “the good old days” … Part of the problem, of course, is that some things were better back in the day, most notably, us!
I’m pretty sure that I didn’t used to wake up two or three times in the night or fixate on the woes of the world at 5:00 o’clock in the morning or become more and more aware of the horrific effects of gravity with every passing day. I’m almost certain that my joints didn’t make this weird cacophony of squeaks and pings and clicks and thumps every time I move nowadays, and what’s up with that old man moaning grunting noise that happens every time I get up from a chair?
So, sure, some things have not improved with the passing of time, but I’ve discovered, as everything goes to hell, that its far to easy to fixate on those things and to ignore what is good in the here and now. The just completed 2022 summer season here at the theatre, is a case in point. Part of me has been bemoaning the fact that in terms of audience numbers and box office dollars we are still a long way from the pre-pandemic successes of the 2019 summer season. It was a fabulous season that was a critical success and it sold, boy did it sell! Our strategic planning as we looked forward was full of optimism and hope … improved new play development, better
mentorship programs, expanded seasons, and bigger shows. Its seductive to return to that time, but ultimately its not really useful. Far better to look at the here and now! Despite the challenges, the stress, and the hard work, or perhaps because of them, we have come together as a team, and in many ways the 2022 summer season is the best we’ve ever had. To be sure, by some measures, the season was modest in its successes, but as I look back on it in years to come, I have no doubt that it will be my favourite season … because it is the season that brought us back.
So, we give thanks to all that made it possible, not in the good old days but in the here and now, when the sun still shines, the coffee tastes good, and Ruby the wonder dog is still as cute as ever despite a muzzle that gets whiter every day.
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!
(September 13, 2022)
Simon Says … we made it!
Well, look at that, we budgeted, planned, and completed a full 15-week summer season of programming in 2022! Oh, it wasn’t seamless, I think its fair to say that we were all a little rusty when it came right down to it, I mean we had to actually think about being out in public, about wearing real clothes and shaving on a regular basis. We certainly weren’t back to pre-pandemic attendance numbers, but at the end of the day, we had over 12,500 patrons come through our doors and if all of those patrons bring a friend next year … well, then we’ll be laughing!
The pandemic had not entirely loosened its grip on the theatre community, and a number of theatres lost significant revenue with cancelled shows and sometimes even entire productions! We were fortunate in that regard, we had some close calls, but we escaped the worst of it in spite of the intimacy of our performance space, and to a large extent it is thanks to you, our patrons. Nobody enjoyed the mask mandate, not our staff and volunteers, not our artists, and not our audiences, and obviously it will have to be re-examined as we move forward, but for us this season it worked, and for that we are truly very grateful.
If I had to sum up my feelings as we wrap things up and prepare for a busy off season of planned events, the word “relief” comes to mind. It’s been a stressful few months, and in terms of rebounding to pre-pandemic levels, we’ve got a long way to go, but I think we’re feeling cautiously optimistic. It was a good season, with some wonderful new stories, it was a season of hope, of new beginnings, and that’s what we take forward. And when it comes right down to it, let’s all celebrate the summer of 2022 … we made it!
(September 1, 2022)
Simon says… Upside down finch.
There is a riot of sunflowers outside our kitchen window. It’s not an orderly display of horticultural acumen you understand. Oh, it started out neat and tidy, 5 years ago, when we carefully planted well-spaced seeds along the front wall of the house, and the resulting display was a pleasing sea of glorious plate-sized flowers … the envy of the neighbourhood!
I suspect the neighbourhood has a slightly different take on the situation currently, as our previously soldier-like row of towering blossoms now more closely resembles a gaudy motorcycle gang than anything else, shouldering their way onto the lawn, the gravel walkway, and even the backyard, vigorously imposing their shouts of colour on all and sundry.
The problem, you see, was the finches, American Goldfinches to be precise. We didn’t know, but it seems that the all-time favourite, bar none, they’ll fight to the death for it, food of the American Goldfinch is sunflower seeds. Not only that, but they are extremely messy eaters. They look like golden feathered Tasmanian devils with a veritable explosion of sunflower detritus floating around their heads as they feed spreading seeds far and near. But, in spite of the mess, the chaos, the noise (finches are extremely “chatty”), and the out-of-control sunflowers, its hard not to love the whole thing … apart from anything else, the finch feeding frenzy is the earliest sign of approaching Fall.
There are other signs of course … soybean plants start to change colour, there is an occasional morning with that tell-tale crispness in the air, corn and field tomatoes abound, humidity drops, and here at the theatre we open our final show of the season and anticipate the Playwrights’ Festival to come in late September. I love the Fall. I always have, although I’m not really sure why … The easy answer, I suppose, is that Fall comes as somewhat of a relief in Southwestern Ontario after the muggy, often sun-baked days of August, and classically harvest has always been a time of celebration (just ask those finches!). But for me, I think its more about the change. Spring is traditionally thought of as the “new beginnings” season but Fall also welcomes in a host of new opportunities … stocking up the freezer, Christmas shopping (as if!!), new fiscal year at the theatre (almost as much fun as the Christmas shopping thing), new school year, and for those of us at PSFT a chance to look back on a summer of live theatre and to look forward to a summer of new programming for 2023.
Wait a minute, what’s that sound? It’s curiously quiet all of a sudden, and when I look outside, I see a finch hanging upside down from a sunflower. He appears to be fast asleep, he looks fat, and I could swear he has a sort of finchy, “I’ve just eaten my weight in sunflower seeds” smile on his beak.
Ahh, the Fall. Life is good.
(August 1, 2022)
Simon says…No spring chicken
Let’s be clear from the get-go, even when I started this gig, I was no spring chicken. I was more like an end of summer chicken, or even an early fall chicken. And that was seventeen years ago, my daughter was two years old, and aside from the occasional meltdown still did mostly what I asked her. Now, she just looks at me, smiles, and sadly shakes her head. I don’t blame her, I’d shake my head myself if my neck didn’t hurt, if my arthritic hip wasn’t twinging, and if I could only remember where my glasses are. And the spring chicken thing? Well let’s just say, I’m more like an early winter chicken scanning the ground anxiously for signs of early frost these days.
It occurs to me, as I switch my attention to finding my backup pair of glasses, that things don’t always end up the way you think they will. I mean the surprise curve ball is such a cliché I don’t even know why its even called the “surprise” curve ball anymore. It should be called the “right on time, pretty much expecting something like this, here we go again” curve ball.
In Jamie Williams’ new play “The View from Here”, one curve ball is not sufficient, as the characters Michael and Mary are forced to deal with a series of surprises. And as in life, their willingness to carry on with a degree of grace and style in spite of the obstacles they are suddenly confronted with, defines them. Jamie’s characters have both grace and style, along with liberal doses of good humour, and in the end, they triumph. That their triumph is not unequivocal only serves to make their journey that much more interesting.
Ah, speaking of triumph I just found my glasses! Well, not my actual glasses or even my backup glasses if it comes to that, but I found my backup to my backup glasses. They’re not perfect, I have to cover one eye to see properly because they’re missing one lens, so my depth perception is all shot to hell, but with any luck at all, when that next expected curve ball arrives, I’ll squint, sidestep it and watch it just go sailing on by. I may not be a spring chicken anymore, but I’ve got enough sense to stay out of the strike zone!
(July 20, 2022)
(July 8, 2022)
Simon says… No place like home
Here at the theatre, we’ve always found it challenging to find places for our visiting artists to call home, while they’re with us anywhere from six weeks to a full summer season. It’s even tougher this year, what with Covid hesitancy, and the two-year theatre hiatus that we’ve just gone through. Despite our best attempts, we’ve all lost touch with some of our friends and acquaintances over the last couple of years, and the theatre is no different in that regard.
“Our House”, by Murray Furrow, is a play that examines the importance of home. Its about a retired couple who open their house to a young actor engaged in his first professional contract. The young actor gets a much-needed home base from which he negotiates the vagaries of the theatre, and the couple has their world opened to all sorts of new possibilities as they invite a stranger into their home.
But what is “home”? For many of us it’s a safe place, a sanctuary of sorts, often shared, and often a source of financial security. For others, the definition might not be quite as clear, and the idea of home may be elusive. Is an encampment a home, a tent, a doorway, or even a subway grate? There’s been a lot of discussion about housing, and its affordability, these days. It’s been talked about at the federal level, was an “issue” with the recent provincial election and has been the cause of much comment locally.
Here in Port, social media has been abuzz. Should Air B&Bs be licenced or taxed? Should affordable housing be a condition of development? How will those that grew up in the area ever afford to live here? How long do you have to live here before you are a “resident” or are you always destined to be from “away”? Is the homeless fellow seen about the village lately really a criminal who is indiscriminately breaking into people’s truck as has been suggested, or is he deserving of help and generosity … social media opinion seems somewhat divided.
At the end of the day, it seems to me that we all have a right to a safe place that we can call home. As for how we make that happen? Well, I’m not quite sure, but perhaps generosity, openness, and checking our sense of entitlement at the door is a good place to start.
And to those who have opened their homes to our visiting artists? Thank you, thank you from the bottom of our hearts, because after all there really is no place like home.
(July 5, 2022)
(June 6, 2022)
Simon says… “My Hero”
Well, the word “hero” gets tossed around a lot, doesn’t it?
Once upon a time, I think the meaning was clearer, but like a lot of words, over the course of time, it’s been somewhat co-opted. We talk about athletes being heroes, but I’m not sure that its appropriate really. I mean, sure they perform extraordinary feats, but many of them do it for a healthy pay cheque, not exactly selflessly. I’ve always felt that there should be an element of sacrifice involved for someone to be truly a hero.
When I was a kid, if I thought about it all, I guess I would have said that my grandfather was my hero. He came over to Canada at the turn of the century in his early 20’s at a time when horse and buggy was viable prairie transportation and fur coats normal winter wear, and after all sorts of adventures returned to England because he promised his mother he would. That all seemed pretty heroic to me. Then to top it off he joined up with the veterinary corps during the first world war even though he was old enough that he didn’t have to and served as an air raid warden during the battle of Britain in World War two. He lived to be 93 years old.
In Norm Foster’s play, “My Hero”, the lead character Jim talks about who his hero was growing up. Jim’s dad had been a famous hockey player who had died in a car accident while in his prime. He was a man’s man, a hard hitting, high scoring athlete, “one of the best to play the game”. The memory of Jim’s father in many ways underpins the story, and Foster leads us to expect that Jim’s hero is his father. It is only after he leads us through the events of the play, the ins and the outs, the laughter, and the pathos, that we come to understand that Jim’s hero is in fact his mother: a woman who fought hard, sacrificed everything, raised Jim on her own, and ultimately always had his back.
I guess being a hero is not gender specific.
I guess heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
I think that’s a good thing to keep in mind.
(May 5, 2022)
(April 5, 2022)
(March 23, 2022)
(March 9, 2022)
(February 23, 2022)
Simon says… “Our House” (finally!) a world premiere by Murray Furrow
Unlike Norm Foster’s “My Hero”, which went through a development/workshop process at the Norm Foster Festival in St Catherines (a wonderful theatre dedicated to Foster’s work), Murray Furrow’s “Our House” has had a now lengthy involvement with our development program. The piece was first submitted to us in an early draft form in the spring of 2019 and received initial dramaturgical support before being slated for a workshop in the fall of 2019 as part of our annual Playwrights’ Festival. By the time the play received it’s public reading as part of the festival it had received further work and was in a 4th or 5th draft level of readiness. Much valued feedback from audience members and company actors allowed Murray to make some final “tweaks” in the script, and in November of that year “Our House” was announced as part of the 2020 season. By the time the 2020 season was cancelled the play had been cast, offers had been made, and a set design had been completed … it all got put on hold, but now (fingers crossed!) we are moving ahead with a full production in the summer of 2022!
“Retirement! Its what you’ve worked for, its your golden years, it’s a life in the sunshine … or is it? What if you’re bored?”
Rose and Brian are finding out that retirement might not be what it’s cracked up to be. To find a new interest in life they take in a young actor from the local summer theatre and get more than they bargained for. Mounties, RVs, and Viagra. Young love, old love, and finding out that what you have is the best thing after all. A comedy about the meaning of home.”
“Our House” runs from July 13th until July 30th, with an intended cast of Karen Wood, William Vickers, Brittany Kay and Brian Bommarito. Simon Joynes directing, Lani Martel stage managing, a lighting design by Karen Crichton, and set design by Eric Bunnell assisted by Haley Helm.
(February 9, 2022)
Simon says… “My Hero”: a world premiere by Norm Foster
Well, one thing has become very clear over the last 22 months or so … while much of Canadian live theatre has shut down, Canada’s most prolific playwright has not. In fact, if anything, Norm Foster’s output has increased over the last couple of years. Now, there is one thing that is true for any play and for any playwright, and that is that no play is complete, not really complete, until you add an audience component … the final piece of the puzzle. That’s where we come in, and where you come in, as for the first time in our history the Port Stanley Festival Theatre is staging the world premiere of a Norm Foster play
“A brand-new play by Canada’s king of comedy, “My Hero”, a comedy about moving on.
40-year-old Jim Devine has moved back in with his mom … he’s divorced, he’s getting his life back together, its taken some time. 5 Years of time! Well, the clock is running out, things are changing, his mom’s dating the gardener, and Jim has his work cut out for him. A story about change, and love, and new beginnings.”
“My Hero” runs from June 15th until July 9th, starring Susan Johnston Collins, Murray Furrow, and Reid Janisse, with Simon Joynes directing, a lighting design by Karen Crichton, and set design by Joshua Quinlan.
(January 25, 2022)
(December 1, 2021)
Simon says The Green Stuff…
I’m a fan of green stuff. I have a green shirt I’m very fond of. I like grass. I even like cutting grass. OK, I like watching my wife cut grass, and I’m pretty sure she likes cutting grass, which is, of course, why I don’t offer to do it … and I like asparagus, green peppers, brussel sprouts, kale, and the ultimate green stuff … money. I know it’s yet again an unavoidable American thing. Their money is green, ours is all the colours of the rainbow. They call our money monopoly money, I call it interesting, but I digress. I also, more and more, like the idea of what “green” means now, green as sustainable, green as in user friendly, green as in absolutely imperative … green energy, green policies, green solutions, green as a new way at looking at things.
And now, the big question. Why does it cost so much of the “green stuff” to do green stuff?
I’m not really expecting an answer, you understand. It may just be one of those things.
It may be like … why does toast always land butter side down when accidently dropped?
The problem as I see it, is that most of us, OK, most of us past a certain vintage, are fundamentally resistant to change. Oh, we don’t admit it. Oh no! We embrace change, we love change, right? Wrong! After all, we’re the generation that thought ATMs were a fad, that microwave ovens made you sterile, and that the interweb would never catch on.
So, it wasn’t until our comfortable, oily, fume-spewing, old faithful of a lawn mower finally lost a wheel and was absolutely, completely, unarguably, unsalvageable that we thought about a greener alternative. But there were considerations … after all I didn’t want to risk diminishing the joy my wife found in the task. The green alternative was bulkier, harder to store, and required keeping track of battery life, but most importantly it was more expensive. Quite a bit more expensive! Where was the money to come from? Should we deplete the wine budget? Then what would I sip while watching my wife frolic with the new lawn mower? Well, we bit the bullet, cut back on dog food (Ruby it tuns out can exist on a diet of dead leaves), and are no longer filling the neighborhood with black, oily fumes.
Now I’m looking at cars, and once again the dollar factor comes into play. A small used hybrid of modest dimension (something slightly larger than a roller skate) is substantially more expensive than its more conventional cousin. Not that I’m ever in the market for a brand-new car you understand, but I did discover that the cheapest EV on the market is the remarkably nondescript Nissan Leaf, a car that is the automotive equivalent of the colour beige. The Leaf sells for $37,498 and may have enough range to get you to the convenience store and back.
So, there it is, if you want to be green, you also have to be wealthy. Is this fair? Do I not have the same right as my rich neighbors to save the planet, to smugly walk past pickup trucks with a superior smile pasted on to my self-righteous face, and perhaps to even feel better about myself?
More to the point, how will things improve if green choices are not choices that most of us can afford? Think about it … the green stuff.
(November 19, 2021)
Simon says change …
can be a tough one, eh? Change, how we react to it, how we allow it to affect us.
Many of us are wary of new things, new relationships, new technologies, new ways of looking at the world.
Its not always a bad thing, that wariness. I mean without it, we might still be driving AMC Gremlins, eating candy floss flavoured mac and cheese, or using glow-in-the-dark toilet paper … but we can’t be wary of everything new. In fact, as we go through life our essential happiness may depend on finding a balance, a balance between healthy skepticism and enthusiastic acceptance.
We’ve all been through a lot of change over the last few months, and I don’t imagine we’re done with that just yet. Here at the theatre, as with many of you, it was a tough go. Strategies changed, priorities changed, stakes changed, and through it all we were very lucky to have a really strong team to get us through … and now one of those team members is making a change.
Our loss is the St Thomas Community Foundation’s gain, as Natasha Newby takes on her new position as Executive Director, and I’m sure she will bring to it her unique blend of efficiency, warmth, community spirit, and humour. In many ways, she will always be a part of our team, and we are going to miss her more than we know.
There you go, change.
Well, we’re going to embrace this one. Tony Sclafani is moving into the Theatre Manager’s office. He’ll bring his own uniqueness to the job as he too will have to look at change. Our team will re-adjust, we’ll welcome in a new Production Manager, find new ways to move in this new reality.
New beginnings, ladies and gentlemen … welcome to new beginnings.
(October 25, 2021)
(September 17, 2021)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
(April 18, 2021)
(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)
(February 9, 2021)
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)
(December 22, 2020)
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)
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.
(November 9, 2020)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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!