Blyth Festival attendance continues upward trend - Oct. 5, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Continuing on an upward trend for the Blyth Festival, more people attended a performance this year than did last year according to Artistic Director Gil Garratt.
While the season was a successful one, Garratt says that 2017 will likely be remembered for the season’s outreach into a number of communities.
“Two of the four shows could not have been created without a huge amount of input from our communities,” Garratt said.
The Pigeon King, the story of huckster Arlan Galbraith and the farmers, many of whom were local, taken in by his Ponzi scheme and Pigeon King International, relied heavily on outreach into the agricultural community and countless interviews with those involved at various levels. Garratt said that the research process for The Pigeon King got to a point where the creators had to stop interviews, otherwise the play would never be written.
Similarly, Ipperwash was created after an extensive and lengthy relationship between playwright Falen Johnson and playwright/director Jessica Carmichael and the people of Kettle and Stony Point First Nations communities near Sarnia.
This outreach represented a first for the Blyth Festival, Garratt said, which had never before told First Nations stories on the Memorial Hall stage, let alone the story of a First Nations veteran as Ipperwash did.
Coincidentally, Garratt says that both shows are now destined to live on beyond the 2017 season.
Ipperwash has been picked up by Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto and will be produced sometime in the future and there has been great interest from theatre companies across the country in The Pigeon King. In addition, Garratt says that he and General Manager Rachael King are strongly considering bringing the show back for a short run in the 2018 season due to its success this year.
Garratt said that The Pigeon King was the season’s most successful show. In addition, its lengthy run, which was extended to coincide with the International Plowing Match, paid off at the box office, with between 350 and 500 tickets being sold directly to IPM visitors. King said that she’s sure more IPM-goers attended, but didn’t identify themselves as being associated with the IPM.
The Festival, which normally says goodbye to its productions by Labour Day weekend, ran The Pigeon King until nearly the end of September. In addition, Watching Glory Die, a Phillips Studio production, also ran in mid-September, proving to make the month a busy one for the theatre.
The Pigeon King and Ipperwash and what they meant to their respective communities, Garratt says, provided the most memorable moments for him over the course of the season.
For The Pigeon King, it was speaking with farmers and those involved in the Galbraith case that will stick with him. He also encountered a number of people involved in Galbraith’s life over the course of the show’s run, like childhood friends of the man and relatives, not to mention former business partners and farmers taken in by his scheme.
The outreach into the Kettle and Stony Point communities, Garratt says, is something he hopes is the beginning of a relationship, not the culmination of one.
One of the most important nights, he said, was during one of the Ipperwash preview shows when a busload of over 40 elders from the communities came to the show, along with children, also from the community. How important the show was to them, he said, will always stay with him.
This special performance came after three rehearsal field trips that the all-First Nations cast made to the communities for live readings and simply to spend time with members of the Kettle and Stony Point communities.
Garratt said that he and King have been hard at work curating the 2018 season of the Blyth Festival and he hopes to be in a position to make that announcement later this month, or early next month.
Check The Citizen in the coming weeks for that news. For more information on the Blyth Festival, visit blythfestival.com.