ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Festival Antigonish (FA) always practices what it preaches, so when it selects ‘dream big’ as a theme for its 32nd season, you know it has a lineup which reflects the loftiness.
The 2019 lineup was revealed during an evening dinner event, held Jan. 25 at the Coady International Institute; a St. F.X. campus neighbour of the festival’s Bauer Theatre home.
“Addy Doucette’s original vision to start a professional theatre company in rural Nova Scotia was a gigantic dream, and this summer, 32 years later, we are dreaming bigger than ever,” FA artistic director Andrea Boyd said, as she took the podium to announce the lineup.
“Four fantastic shows on our mainstage, one spectacular kids’ show and a dynamic new initiative that will bring theatre out into the community.”
In talking to the Casket Jan. 29, Boyd started her summary of the lineup, and how it reflects the theme, with Ben-Hur by Patrick Barlow.
“Our season this year also does dream very big, starting with Ben-Hur, which had camels, thousands of extras and 2,500 horses; that kind of a gigantic movie when it was done as a movie, and this is four people trying to put on a cast of thousands show,” she said.
“It’s a little company putting this on and we’re also a little company that is putting the whole show on, so it’s everybody dreaming very big.”
Boyd is directing the play which is making its Canadian premiere.
Next up is A Brimful of Asha by Asha and Ravi Jain.
“I think, for the first time, we’re bringing diversity on stage,” Boyd said of the play she described as “charming and lovely.”
“Ravi Jain, a playwright, director and actor, was invited to go to India to teach some theatre workshops, and lo-and-behold, his mom and dad let him know that, purely by coincidence, they were going to be there at the same time,” Boyd said during her speech, providing a synopsis of the play.
“Unbeknownst to Ravi, their intention was to find him a suitable bride through an arranged marriage. Family meetings, betrayals, binders full of girls and clash after cultural clash are revealed as Ravi and his mom Asha tell their sides of this true story, each hoping to get you on-side. Funny, delightful and accessible, this play will charm audiences with its unique yet timeless storytelling style.”
Boyd noted actors Ronica Sajnani and Matt Lacas are coming from Toronto to perform in the play, which will be directed Linda Moore.
A huge round of applause from the dinner goers met news that Antigonish’s Mary Colin Chisholm would be returning to the festival for the third play discussed; The Goodnight Bird by Colleen Murphy.
“It’s a beautiful script about a middle-aged couple,” Boyd said. “She is retired, he is not quite yet retired but, probably, should be.
“They are, very much, into their routine and it starts out funny but, then, a homeless guy falls onto their condo balcony. He is mentally ill as well, and it forces them to reexamine a lot of things in their lives,” she added, describing the play as a “dark comedy.”
The play is being directed by Boyd.
Rounding out the main stage lineup is Honky Tonk Blue; the companion piece to last year’s Being Hank and Patsy by local performer Laura Teasdale.
“After last season’s runaway success, Being Hank and Patsy, we are following up with a presentation of Honky Tonk Blue; the play that imagines the country music legends together,” Boyd said.
“In last year’s Being Hank and Patsy, Laura and Ralph [Steiner] talk about a play they did together, and the good times and bad times that evolved. This year we are presenting that play … the one that started it all.”
The family stage play is If You Could Wear My Sneakers, based off the writing of well-known children’s writer Sheree Fitch, adapted to the stage by Boyd with music by Adam Theriault.
Teasdale will be directing.
“I had just done a project about child soldiers and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that was where my head space had been for, probably, a couple of years,” Boyd said of the adaption she did in 2003, and her first experience with FA.
“My friend noted I should submit something to Addy which would have some social relevance and significance, and the poems are so wonderful and playful, and sort of sad, at times, a little elephant who doesn’t want to go to war.
“Each of the poems represents one of the articles from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; so I took it, adapted it and set it in a zoo where the zoo keeper learns that animals and people have rights,” Boyd added, noting it’s a musical.
Amongst the cast are two young actors who are St. F.X. grads and worked on their skills by taking part in Theatre Antigonish productions.
“Emma Vickers, a graduate from the music program here, and leading actor in Eurydice and The Ash Girl, presented by Theatre Antigonish, returns to us from Victoria, where she has been studying at the Canadian College for Performing Arts,” Boyd said. “Briony Merrit, who performed with Emma in The Ash Girl, will also be joining the company. Newcomers to Antigonish, Abby Weisbrot and Ryan Gallant, will round out this unbelievable team of new talent.”
Other talents which will be on stage this season include veteran Wally MacKinnon who has been part of the festival in the past – including year two – Henricus Gielis who was part of last year’s festival including a turn as young Elvis in Burnin’ Love, and Rachel Hastings.
“A young Halifax actor,” Boyd said. “This will be her first with Festival Antigonish; she is a delight, very funny.”
A grant from the Nova Scotia Culture Innovation Fund is allowing FA and its family stage team to reach out into the community.
“Theatre-on-the-Town is an innovative project that will take place for the first time in the summer of 2019,” Boyd said.
“In addition to performing on the family stage play for young audiences, the emerging artists that make up the Young Company will create and perform short plays in cafés, parks, sports fields, libraries, or other locations around the community of Antigonish.
“Designed as intimate theatre experiences, these on-site performances will directly engage new audiences in a variety of accessible theatrical moments as the actors bring the work directly to the community. Working collectively, the company will prepare four 10-minute plays, under the guidance of their director Sam Rosenthal.”
FA managing director Reema Fuller said it’s an “extension” of what FA does.
“Instead of someone having to walk into the theatre to watch it, we’re bringing it out into the community,” Fuller said. “It’s broadening our audience and presenting theatre in a more accessible form, to a larger number of people. There is no admission, it’s a free play, people can be wherever and enjoy it.
“Antigonish has such a vibrant arts and culture environment, it’s a perfect way to fit into that, to add to that as well. And because it’s being done by the young company, the emerging artists, it’s a chance for them to do a little more.”
Looking over the main stage lineup, Boyd said while it’s always a goal to offer variety, this year’s plays certainly do present a little bit of everything.
“It’s a very diverse program this year,” she said.
“As I try to have all the time, but this year, I think, is particularly diverse and yet, I feel, it all fits together. Someone coming to everything will not find it startling, jarring or out of place.
“It goes from Ben-Hur; come, have a good time, it’s a silly, ridiculous and funny piece, to A Brimful of Asha which brings a new audience and a new vision to the theatre. Then The Goodnight Bird which is still a comedy, but a dark comedy; it really does go to some dark placers before it emerges back into the light again. And then Honky Tonk Blue, a musical which everyone is going to love.”
For more on Festival Antigonish, visit festivalantigonish.com.