If you’re walking near The Old School in Millbrook this week, don’t be alarmed if you see a ghostly figure in the dark. While it may look like a spectre, it is most likely an actor from 4th Line Theatre rehearsing for their upcoming show The Shadow Walk of Millbrook.
Part ghost walk and part theatrical production, The Shadow Walk of Millbrook is not only 4th Line’s first off-season show, but one that takes the company off of Winslow Farm and into the streets, trails, and woods of the town of Millbrook.
In development since 2015, The Shadow Walk of Millbrook was written by Paul Braunstein and Monica Dottor and is directed by 4th Line Theatre’s managing artistic director Kim Blackwell. Featuring 10 performers in 21 scenes, the show brings its audience on a journey through Millbrook’s dark past in a unique walking tour.
“Paul approached me in the summer of 2015 and asked me if we’d ever consider doing a Halloween play,” Kim says of the origins of the show. “I had been interested for a long time in doing some off-season programming for 4th Line. We’ll always be the farm theatre and we love our summer season, but I was interested in exploring some opportunities for artists to work more. So when Paul brought up the idea, I thought it’d be an exciting opportunity.”
Although Paul and Monica originally envisioned the show at the Winslow Farm, bringing the show into the streets and woods of Millbrook offered the company a lot more interesting possibilities.
“I think Paul and Monica thought it’d happen at the farm, but in the off-season the theatre is the private residence of Rob Winslow,” Kim explains. “But I’ve always been intrigued by the architecture of Millbrook, and especially the old school. I thought that would be a great launching place for a play that would have you walking through the paths and the forest of Millbrook. Monica and Paul got excited pretty quickly about that possibility.”
What makes The Shadow Walk of Millbrook unique compared to other ghost walks is that the entire tour contains its own story within itself. Actor Matt Gilbert plays James, a paranormal investigator hired by the town to help put the ghosts of Millbrook to rest. However, James is more than just a guide; he has his own story going on within the evening as well, giving a whole other dimension to the experience.
“There is lots of truth but we wanted to make good theatre so there is some fiction, as well as an umbrella storyline based around the paranormal investigator who is the lead character,” Kim reveals. “It’s a bit of a quest story for him, which goes back to his childhood.”
In collecting the stories for the show, Paul and Monica relied on the verbal narrative supplied by the people of Millbrook.
“Paul and Monica did a public reminiscence last November where they were able to collect local ghost stories,” says Kim. “Then they talked to Rob Winslow, who is a wealth of Millbrook and area ghost and murder stories. Rob can just stand by the old school and point at a place and say ‘That’s where that guy cut his head off, and down there is where the arena exploded, and over there is where the Bernardo boy drowned.’ He just has hundreds of stories. Monica and Paul also visited with some old timers in Millbrook who had a lot of stories as well.”
“There are all sorts of interesting characters in the show,” Kim adds. “The most famous two include Sir John A. MacDonald, who used to like to come to Millbrook to drink, and Joseph Sriven, who wrote the hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus, but we also feature a lot of local people who met an untimely end.”
There are six evening performances of The Shadow Walk of Millbrook — Thursday, October 20th to Saturday, October 21st and Thursday, October 27th to Saturday, October 29th — and each performance can only accommodate 120 people. As of the date of this story, all performances have been sold out.
If you’re one of those 720 lucky people who purchased tickets, Kim has some advice.
“I wouldn’t recommend the show for anyone under the age of twelve,” Kim says. “There are some really scary things that happen within it. I don’t want anybody to think that it’s like any of those haunted houses at theme parks. It’s not men with chainsaws coming out at you. Make sure you wear comfortable or sturdy shoes or boots. The piece relies you to walk over rough terrain for over a kilometre. Be prepared for any sort of weather, and dress warm. Also, we are asking people to bring flashlights so they can light the own path as they walk.”
With paranormal investigation television programs being popular, the belief in the supernatural has been on the rise in the last decade. So does Kim believe in the supernatural?
“We ask the audience at the beginning of the play which side they fall on and at the end if anybody changed their mind,” Kim says. “I have a hard time not believing that there are other planes of existence. I personally don’t have any ghost story or experiences. I think that’s what helps people become believers if they have a situation where nothing can be explained in any other way. But I desperately want to believe.”
A truly original show for 4th Line Theatre, The Shadow Walk of Millbrook is a new way to not only witness reenactments of local lore, but to see the picturesque town Millbrook in a entirely different way.
“Millbrook can get pretty creepy,” Kim says. “There’s not a lot of light in the area that we are doing the play. Darkness alone can be quite scary — that and the forest.”
“We were rehearsing in the forest last night and my daughter Maude is in the play,” Kim recalls. “I pointed at the trees and said ‘go stand over there’ while directing her. She said ‘No Mom. I don’t want to stand over there. It’s too dark!’ I said ‘Are you afraid?’ She said ‘Yeah.’ And I thought ‘Oh, that’s good!’ I don’t mean that it’s good that she’s afraid, but I was really excited about the effect of the darkness.”
The play features a host of favourite 4th Line Theatre actors including 4th Line’s Founder and Creative Director Robert Winslow, Matt Gilbert, Maude Rose Craig, Josh Butcher, Lorna Green, Hilary Wear, Andrew Pederson, Andréanne Duplessis, and Mark Hiscox. Justin Hiscox is the musical director and composer of the show. As well as being a co-playwright, Monica Dottor is choreographing the production. Joining the company will be local aerialists and dancers, Thomas Vaccaro and Jennifer Elchuk.
For those who have tickets, each performance begins at 7 p.m. and participants are to meet at The Old School at 1 Dufferin Street in Millbrook.