'Wing Night at the Boot' writing process begins - March 1, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Blyth Festival and Artistic Director Gil Garratt welcomed a handful of theatre professionals to the village last week charged with the task of uncovering stories from the history of the fabled Blyth Inn.
The writers, some of whom will be known to Festival audiences and others who are new to the village, spent the last week in Blyth interviewing local historians (official and unofficial), poring over archived material and actually doing some boots-on-the-ground research in the bar and restaurant. This process is all in preparation for this season’s collective creation entitled Wing Night at The Boot.
Similar to last season’s runaway success, The Pigeon King, Wing Night at The Boot will aim to bring together a group of theatre professionals to learn about the subject and craft the story collectively from what they’ve learned along the way.
However, unlike last year’s Pigeon King research, Garratt said that members of the community have been positively forthcoming and willing to share their stories, whereas those who had knowledge of Pigeon King Arlan Galbraith were a little more reluctant to come forward last season for a variety of reasons.
Because the bar has been around in one form or another for as long as the village has, Garratt said the writers will have to tackle a number of eras over the course of the play. They have heard about some thus far, but still hope to hear more about others during future visits.
Making their way to Blyth for last week’s fact-finding mission were: show director Severn Thompson, who was also behind The Pigeon King and Beyond The Farm Show before it; Tony Munch, a Festival regular who starred in last season’s The Berlin Blues; Marion Day, another Festival regular who starred in The Birds and the Bees and Innocence Lost: a Play About Steven Truscott, among others and Nathan Howe, who played a musician in last season’s Mr. New Year’s Eve: a Night with Guy Lombardo and newcomers Graham Cuthbertson and Georgina Beaty.
So far, the group has interviewed a number of residents who have been involved with the Blyth Inn for a number of years in a variety of ways. Whether they were on one side of the bar or the other, residents have been co-operative, said Garratt, and the writers have been eager to hear.
The group went to Thursday’s wing night and spent some time talking to the patrons, which included a local broomball team and many of the bar’s regulars.
Like many local legends, apparently the writers have stumbled upon opposing viewpoints on some topics. For example, there have been some who have said the Inn, decades ago, was a place where families were welcomed and patrons would be safe, while others remember it as being a rough place to hang out, recounting several bar-wide brawls at what was then called the “Bucket of Blood”.
Both Thompson and Day said that hearing some stories about locals who can now often be found at The Boot and then meeting these people face to face has been akin to meeting a rock star after the writers have heard so much about them.
Thompson says there is such a reverence for people who work their way to the front of local lore, for one reason or another, that the writers can hardly wait to meet them in person.
Day said she remembered the same thing happening during the research phase of the collective creation, Beyond The Farm Show. Munch and Thompson, both Beyond The Farm Show alumni, agreed, saying there is such a respect for locals and their story and that has come into play once again now with this show.
Garratt said the group has learned a lot about local families throughout the process, which will definitely play a part in the finished product this summer.
While the group has already been privy to a wealth of knowledge, they also say they feel like they’ve only just scratched the surface and that there’s plenty more work to be done.
Thus far, they have had interviews with locals that have, almost without fail, led to others. The group spoke to one resident and, when more information was needed on a specific topic, that resident called a friend and before the writers knew it, they were meeting with five people for over two-and-a-half hours.
The writers say they have heard plenty of stories about the late 1960s and early 1970s at the Blyth Inn, but still hope to fill in some blanks along the way, like the late 1990s and early 2000s when the bar was home to regular karaoke nights and decades ago when Huron was a dry county.
Now the writers will be heading back home to digest the week that was and formulate some ideas before returning later in the spring.
Day said the group will be in touch, sending ideas back and forth, but that they’re already looking forward to returning to learn more about the bar, the community and the show they’ll be putting on stage later this year.