Blyth Festival enjoying a banner year says Garratt - Aug. 16, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
The 44th season of the Blyth Festival, which started earlier this year with a week-long remount of the critically-acclaimed The Pigeon King, has been a banner year for the local theatre.
Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt said that the Festival has sold nearly 23,000 tickets as of Bonanza Weekend, Aug. 10-12, a milestone the theatre hasn’t hit in a decade when, in 2008, Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott, debuted.
The play would go on to be remounted and be one of the most succesful in recent Festival memory.
As far as revenue goes, the Blyth Festival hasn’t had such a successful year since 2002, Garratt added.
He attributed the success to the variety of plays on stage this year. Wing Night at the Boot offers a great local experience, he said, focusing on a landmark across the street from the theatre in Memorial Hall, while fare like The New Canadian Curling Club speaks to a national point of view.
The season also features the rural-focused Judith: Memories of a Lady Pig Farmer and 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt, a Canadian theatre mainstay that has deep connection to the Blyth Festival but has never actually been produced by the theatre company.
“There’s so much excitement and energy around The New Canadian Curling Club,” he said. “I anticipate it will be produced in several places over the coming years.”
Garratt said that the conversation behind the play, about immigrants and asylum-seekers, is an important one, which explains why Alberta Theatre Projects has already picked up the production for March of next year.
“People in Canada want to pretend, suddenly, that immigration is dangerous and costs jobs and asylum-seekers are a liability and that’s false,” he said. “It’s lies. This is an important subject matter.”
He said the play speaks to the richness a community can encourage by affording an atmosphere of openness and welcoming to people from across the world.
The New Canadian Curling Club’s playwright Mark Crawford said the announcement was startling, but a welcome surprise.
“To be honest, it’s pretty unexpected,” he said in an interview with The Citizen. “That was a change in their upcoming season.”
He said there is usually a year between a successful play premiering and being picked up by other theatres.
“It’s exciting to have the play being performed in a completely different place,” he said. “It’s a different city in western Canada, a totally different part of the country.”
Crawford said the uptake on the show has been amazing and proves there’s an appetite for a story about immigrants finding their way in Canada. He went on to say that an artist may never know why his play connects with audiences, though he has an idea.
“People have got in touch with me and told me they loved it,” he said. “I’m really, honestly grateful for the way people are embracing it.”
The success of the play indicates that people aren’t just enjoying it, Crawford said, but going that extra mile and telling their friends and family to see it.
As for The New Canadian Curling Club’s run at the Blyth Festival, it has been expanded due to how wildly successful the play has been.
The play was set to end Aug. 23, but five new performances have been added in September: Sept. 18 at 8 p.m., Sept. 19 at 2 p.m., Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sept. 21 at 8 p.m.
“The last six shows have been sold out for weeks,” Garratt said. “We wanted to find a way to bring it back, and we looked at next year, but we wanted to capitalize on how successful it has been this year.”
The success of the play has made it difficult for people to find tickets, Garratt said, adding that couples have come to the show only to come see it again with other friends who hadn’t yet seen it.
“We would have them at the play, then they would each come back with a group of friends later in the season,” he said. “It’s really been amazing.”
Garratt said there is a waiting list for tickets, and the Festival was anxious to get the word out about the play.
Crawford said he hopes the extended season does well, as the choice to do so is a difficult one.
“It’s always a bit of an experiment when you add shows,” he said. “I think it will work. I think there is enough demand for tickets.”
Extending the season is great, not just for the play, Crawford said, but for the community as well. It also plays into an ongoing effort by the Blyth Festival to start having more shoulder-season offerings.
“This lets us get closer to the end of September, which means we’ve been running for five months, from May to September,” Garratt said.
Expanding the run, however was no simple task. Garratt said the first question is whether the performers were available, and, fortunately, they were.
Garratt said making sure the hall was available was also a concern, but that was handled early on.
One change that will have to occur is the stage managers, who will be replaced with available managers from other shows currently on stage. Garratt said that, because there are still several performances of the New Canadian Curling Club left, those managers can be cross-trained.
For more information, contact the Blyth Festival box office at 1-877-862-5984 or visit