Thompson prepares for Blyth Festival position - April 20, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Severn Thompson has a long history with Blyth and the Blyth Festival and now she has grand plans as the Festival’s newest associate artistic director.
Thompson, who has been expanding her dramatic range in recent years, says she’s looking forward to many aspects of the position, but especially the production of plays and the planning of a season.
After spending many years as one of Canada’s more accomplished stage actors, Thompson adapted her skills to the television screen, performing in a number of Canadian programs. She would then continue to expand her work to directing, writing and now as an associate artistic director, which, she says, feels like a logical next step in many ways.
Discussion surrounding the position began near the end of last season, she said. Thompson began discussing the possibility with Artistic Director Gil Garratt and those talks persisted over the winter before an agreement was put into place earlier this year for the coming season.
What comes after that is unknown, but Thompson said she hopes the arrangement will be long term.
Garratt spent a number of years as an associate artistic director himself under Eric Coates, so he knows how important the position is and all that can be learned in such a capacity.
Thompson says she’s greatly excited by the opportunity and hopes to keep expanding her skill set in the world of drama. Not only is she happy that continuing education is taking place, but she thinks it’s logical that it’s happening in Blyth, where so many of her firsts took place.
The first time Thompson acted professionally was on the Festival stage, she said, as was the first time she directed professionally.
As for becoming an associate artistic director, Thompson says there are few people from whom she could learn more than Garratt. Thompson says Garratt knows the position well and knows how to develop talent through that avenue.
While as recently as two years ago Thompson wouldn’t have been able to say she had experience in producing a show or fostering an idea all the way to a live stage production, she’s now done that with her own show at Theatre Passe Muraille, so she feels the foundation is there for her to now build upon.
Thompson recently produced Elle, a play she created from the ground up after reading the story and envisioning it on the stage.
The play is based a French noblewoman who was marooned on an island for having an affair, but survives. The tale of survival in the 1500s was a rugged tale, Thompson said, but an exhilarating story to tell.
The play began in Toronto and then toured various locations across the country, including Vancouver, Winnipeg and Waterford, Ontario, which is the home community of the book’s author, Douglas Glover.
It was an amazing learning experience, Thompson said, that was well received at all of its stops.
Elle was one of the few projects Thompson had undertaken in the time since she was last at the Blyth Festival. During that time she also did some work with The Cole Mine Theatre in Toronto and she continues to teach a Shakespeare project to George Brown College acting students.
Thompson was last in Blyth as one of the two leads in Seeds, the opening play of Garratt’s first season as artistic director. She had previously been in Blyth to direct 2013’s Beyond The Farm Show and the Young Company project The Farm the year before that. The Farm was based on her father Paul’s production of The Farm Show in Goderich Township in 1972 and would form the basis for the 2013 revisitation to the project.
This summer, while Thompson will begin her time as the Festival’s associate artistic director, she will also be directing The Pigeon King, which will star Garratt and several other Festival regulars like J.D. Nicholsen and Rebecca Auerbach.
While that project is still very much in the research and development phase, Thompson says she’s excited about helping to bring the story to the stage. Not only will The Pigeon King tell the story of notorious embezzler Arlen Galbraith and the farmers he took for millions, but it will also explore the very nature of farming – the ups and downs of markets and weather and why farmers can find themselves susceptible to scams such as Galbraith’s.
The Pigeon King opens at the Blyth Festival on Friday, Aug. 11 – the Festival’s third show and second world premiere of the season.
Thompson, no stranger to the community, partly grew up in Huron County, spending summers in Blyth with her parents. The daughter of The Farm Show creator Paul Thompson and actress Anne Anglin, Thompson was a Young Company participant for years.
Despite growing up in both a household and a community that was steeped in the culture of theatre, Thompson says it was far from a direct journey that ended in her career in acting.
“I went to college in Montreal and I took courses on everything but acting, but I couldn’t settle on anything” Thompson said. “I finally came to the realization that through acting, you can do all of these things and be all of these people, depending on the day.”
Once Thompson made that decision, she headed to the National Theatre School in Montreal and never looked back.
After initially acting at the Blyth Festival in her younger years, Thompson’s post-theatre school career began at the Shaw Festival, an institution she said she greatly admired at the time for its tremendous roles for young women.
Her work at the Shaw Festival was then followed with years of acting at the Stratford Festival, as well as in a number of shows in Toronto.
Her acting career then took a turn to the cinematic, as she took a number of television roles on shows such as Hannibal, Defiance, Rookie Blue, Helix and Ransom among others.
For more information on this year’s Blyth Festival season, visit www.blythfestival.com.