Garratt seeks local 'Pigeon King' experiences - Feb. 9, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Gil Garratt, artistic director of the Blyth Festival, is on the hunt for stories and people to help make this year’s production of The Pigeon King as authentic as it can be.
Garratt and his team, which includes his wife Gemma James-Smith and Festival regulars J.D. Nicholsen and Rebecca Auerbach, have been scouring news stories and documentaries for information about Arlan Galbraith, the Pigeon King, but they’re still on the lookout for authentic, personal and local stories.
There are reasons that locals who found themselves entangled in Galbraith’s web are choosing not to come forward, Garratt said, and he understands their feelings. However, he’s hoping that he can convince local farmers to share their stories and know that the Festival has a solid reputation of standing by them.
Garratt said that those who found themselves involved with Galbraith may be embarrassed to tell their stories, not wanting to admit they’d been duped. It’s a natural way to feel about the situation, he said, but he assures Galbraith’s victims that if they get in touch with him or with the Festival, those volunteering information won’t even have to give their names if they don’t want to.
“No one wants to admit they’ve been ‘had’. It can make you feel like you’re not resourceful enough to have figured it out,” Garratt said.
However, due to various circumstances beyond many farmers’ control, Garratt said it’s totally understandable why someone would be susceptible to such a proposal at the time.
He’s also quick to point out that those who were taken in by Galbraith are victims of what he did and should not be ashamed because they didn’t do anything wrong.
With farmers sometimes needing off-farm jobs to make ends meet, he said, people like Galbraith often materialize when times are the toughest.
Garratt said that some farmers know when there has been a bad year to not answer their phone, knowing that it might simply be another shady businessman with a “proposal” that will make them millions.
Galbraith’s peak earning years were at a time when hog prices were at their lowest levels in years and he knew and relied on the desperation of farmers throughout southwestern Ontario.
“He would prey on that very thing,” Garratt said.
Garratt said the Festival has a long history of presenting farmers’ stories and standing alongside them during challenging times. He used the Keith Roulston and Anne Chislett productions of Another Season’s Promise, which tackled the sky-high interest rates of the 1980s, followed by Another Season’s Harvest, which dealt with the BSE crisis, as examples of the Festival’s commitment to telling farmers’ stories.
Not only did farmers flock to those shows because they were entertaining, Garratt said, but farmers felt like their struggles and challenges were being represented on the Festival stage. He hopes that this season’s The Pigeon King can do that exact thing for a new generation of farmers facing a new challenge in Galbraith’s scheme.
The more personal experiences the group can share as part of the production, the richer the story will be, Garratt said. While there are all kinds of research materials available from prominent Canadian media outlets, and all the way up to the New York Times Magazine, it will be those personal experiences with Galbraith and the effects the scheme had on people and their families that will help the show along more than anything, he said.
For those wanting to speak with Garratt about their personal experiences with Galbraith or the Pigeon King scheme, they can call him at the Blyth Festival at 519-523-9300 or e-mail him at ggarratt
@blythfestival.com. Those who contact the Festival can be assured that their names or any details they’re not comfortable sharing will not be shared beyond these confidential conversations.