The Blyth Festival, thought by some to be Ontario's "other" theatre festival, begins its 25th season June 23 -- offering five new works and a previously-staged thriller -- in the sleepy town of Blyth, population 1,000, in rural Huron County.
Unlike Ontario's better-known Stratford and Shaw festivals, which revive classics and only occasionally present new works, Blyth's mission is to produce original Canadian plays. The festival presents at two spaces, the 483-seat Blyth Centre for the Performing Arts (the community's Memorial hall, used for special events the rest of the year) and the 120-seat Garage Theatre (a production and rehearsal space that becomes a stage in the summer).
The year's slate, presented in repertory, includes:
€ That Summer, David French's lyrical tale of two vactioning girls who lose their hearts to local boys in the 1950s, directed by Bill Glassco. (French previously penned Jitters and Salt Water.) June 23-Aug. 27.
€ Big Box, Dave Carley's comedy about mall culture and small town retailers' revenge against big-time, "big-box" malls, directed by James Roy. June 29-Aug. 28. € The Great School Crisis of '99, Ted Johns' one-man satire about the Ministry of Education's mysterious ways, and the state of education in general, from the multiple points of view of teachers, politicians, parents, students and more, directed by Layne Coleman. July 13-Aug. 29.
€ When the Reaper Calls, Peter Colley's previously-produced comedy thriller, packed with murder, infidelity, lust, ghosts and greed, directed by Eric Coates in the Garage Theatre. July 28-Aug. 29.
€ Every Dream, James W. Nichol's drama about a struggle between a husband and wife as he considers risking the family home for a sure investment, directed by Kate Trotter. Aug. 3-28.
€ Death of the Hired Man, conceived and written by Paul Thompson, transforms the Blyth Centre into a barn dominated by a threshing gang looking to win the battle against time and the elements in this nostalgic look at the beginning of the era of modern farming. Sept. 2 12.
The Blyth Festival has a $1.2 million (Cdn.) budget and employs 72 full time and seasonal employees. Since 1975, the festival has produced 85 world premieres, and 48 percent of them have gone on to second productions.
For information about the Blyth Festival, which is a 45-minute drive from Stratford, ON, call (877) TO-BLYTH.
-- By Kenneth Jones