Summer Travels - 2016
September 01, 2016
Among the arts organizations supported by the Foundation are theatre and music festivals located outside Toronto and whose programs are summer based. So this summer, I took the opportunity to visit as many as I could, seeing parts of southern Ontario I had never been to. It offers a different view to the ‘Canadian landscape’.
From Parry Sound to Gananoque, Grand Bend to Millbrook, the talent and creativity across the festivals was breathtaking. This was not ‘work’, in addition to meeting the Artistic Directors, Managers and actors, I saw a wide variety of performances. In every location,—the arts organization is a ‘presence’ in the local community, drawing in residents, visitors and tourists. Many local communities rely on the economic contributions from the arts.
It doesn’t get much better to combine being on the water’s edge in Parry Sound in July in the early evening, watching the sun set and then listening to superb Canadian musicians at the Festival of the Sound.
Another perspective was a magical early evening northeast of Toronto in Millbrook. The 4th Line Theatre is an outdoor theatre, using farm buildings converted to seating/stage.
The production was developed from historical events in this part of Ontario and the cast (both professional and local community volunteers) used the stage and adjacent fields, blending landscape into the performance experience.
Further east, on the St. Lawrence River, we saw the most amazing one man performance based on the life of Tom Thomson at the Thousand Islands Playhouse. We stayed over and engaged in ‘retail therapy’ on the main street of the town.
In the tiny village of Blyth, the Blyth Festival has developed a history of compelling theatre where we were challenged by a thought provoking drama – well acted and creatively staged.
After experiencing a summer Saturday evening in Kincardine with the local Pipe Band parade (30-40 strong), we drove down Lake Huron to enjoy, sing and laugh at the Drayton Entertainment Huron County Playhouse's production of Mamma Mia.
Embracing all ages, one of the lead actor’s children was performing on a smaller stage next door in a panto production of Aladdin – the arts embracing all ages!
We saw theatre in small productions in Port Dover (Lighthouse Festival Theatre) and Port Colborne (Showboat Festival Theatre), as well larger scale shows at the Shaw Festival and Stratford Festival -- ‘Breath of Kings’ two back to back performances (you can never have too much Shakespeare).
In the musical theme, I had great fun wandering festival site at Ottawa Bluesfest. This included small blues/jazz groups in an intimate stage setting as well as mingling with thousands to hear contemporary rock/rap groups!
The common denominator was a passion for excellence. From playwrights, staging, directors, musicians, actors – the quality was high. I came away impressed with every organization, every community.
All of this lies within a day’s drive of Toronto – it was a refreshing break to see more of Ontario, to meet playwrights, actors, musicians and be intellectually challenged and satisfied.
It was VERY clear how important the arts organizations and festivals are to the life and economy of their towns/cities. Whether it was our having dinner in the bistro across from the Blyth Festival, staying in local inns/B&B’s or being one of 40,000 attendees at one BluesFest concert, it was clear that Ontario’s our arts organizations and festivals are important contributors to their local economy – employment, taxes, generation of visitor/tourist activity and effective engage with their community.
A visible example were the teenage volunteers at Huron CountyPlayhouse selling 50/50 tickets before the performance, acting as ushers – involving the local community.
What a treat this summer was – there are still many places and arts organizations to visit and I look forward to planning next summer !