As the year winds down to its final days, the stages of the Kawarthas are quiet after a busy season of Christmas concerts and family shows. This gives me the time to sit back and take the time to reflect on the theatrical highlights of 2017.
Over the last year I attended and wrote about 43 different shows. I also wrote about a few shows I didn’t get a chance to see, and saw a couple of shows I didn’t write about. Certainly some shows were better than others, but local theatre companies really stepped up their game. Each show I saw in 2017 had its individual merits and were, for the most part, high quality productions.
Together, everyone who acts, writes, produces, directs and creates for the stage made 2017 a landmark year where a show opened almost every week. There was an incredible output of work, which makes it difficult to pick out just a handful of show to highlight.
But every year a few shows rise to the top. In my opinion, here are the productions (in order of staging) that were the stand-out shows of 2017.
More Than a Memory
Peterborough Theatre Guild, May 2017. Written and directed by Paul Crough. Starring Jerry Allen, Mardi Kennedy, Kate Suhr, Kate Brioux, Max Czmielewsk, Dan Smith, Mark Hiscox, Lisa Devan, Bridget Foley, Paul Crough, and Carl Christensen.
Originally produced in 2015 at Ennismore’s Homestead Theatre, More Than a Memory was an unusual choice for the Peterborough Theatre Guild’s annual musical but it was a welcomed one. Usually going the route of Broadway shows each year, producing a relatively unknown locally written show was a risk, but one that paid off. The production was a huge success for the Guild, giving people not lucky enough to get one of Homestead Theatre’s golden tickets the chance to watch this emotionally powerful production.
Set in Doengal Ireland in 1918, More Than a Memory introduced the audience to the Quinn family: patriarch Fergus (Jerry Allen), his wife Moira (Mardi Kennedy), and daughters Fiona (Kate Suhr), Maureen (Kate Brioux), and Dipna (Brigit Foley). The Quinns and their friends and family dominated the rollercoaster of the first half of the show, filled with their joys, fears, anger, rivalries, shames, loves, and mysteries. But when Fergus dies of a heart attack, everything comes to a head as the characters pay homage to the beloved head of their household.
A beautiful musical filled with the highest highs and the most dramatic lows, the show featured its own inner drama when two key cast members had to drop out of the show in the final weeks of rehearsal. However, Mardi Kennedy (who took much of the show on her shoulders) and Kate Suhr (who made her return to Peterborough from the Toronto stage as a last-minute addition) managed to fall seamlessly into the show.
More Than a Memory was a powerfully emotional show people talked about for months after it was completed. It was also the show for which I had more people who don’t normally attend theatre tell me that they saw and loved. It was most definitely the widespread audience favourite of 2017.
Arts for Awareness, June 2017. Directed by Caitlin Currie. Musical direction by Justin Hiscox. Starring Hannah Bailey, Carl Christensen, Keely Wilson, and Joshua Butcher.
In her directorial debut, Caitlin Currie knocked it out of the park with Ordinary Days. A show I had never heard of, Art for Awareness’ production quickly became one of my favourite musicals. Written by Adam Gwon, Ordinary Days is a clever and hip yet emotionally potent look at four young people trying to make their way in post-9/11 New York. A wonderful script on its own, what made this show so good was the delectable cast Caitlin assembled including Hannah Bailey, Carol Christensen, Keely Wilson, and Josh Butcher. Under the musical direction of Justin Hiscox, this company made musical magic together.
Ordinary Days features two separate stories that only cross once in an obscure way. However, while poignant in their own ways, the stories and characters couldn’t be more different. In the first story, cynical student Deb (Keely Wilson) creates a strange an unlikely friendship with good-natured but unsuccessful artist Warren (Josh Butcher) over her missing thesis notes. In the second story, dreamy romantic Jason (Carl Christiensen) tries to break down the emotional barriers put up by his girlfriend Claire (Hannah Bailey).
The stories weave in and out of each other with a series of wordy but beautiful songs, with the highlight of the show being Hannah Bailey’s emotional gut-wrenching performance of “I’ll be Here” which didn’t leave a dry eye in the theatre.
I loved Ordinary Days so much that I not only saw it twice, but purchased the original cast recording which a fixture in my car became all summer long. But despite the quality of the original cast, my heart longed to listen to the Art for Awareness cast again. The original cast recording pales in comparison to the version I saw on the Gordon Best stage. Ordinary Days definitely contained the best cast assembled for any show this past year.
Planet 12 Productions, June 2017. Written and directed by Derek Weatherdon. Starring Brad Breckenridge, Abbie Dale, Aimee Gordon, Emily Keller, Isaac Maker, Emma Meinhardt, and Samuelle Weatherdon.
The inaugural show from Planet 12 Productions, Boy Wonders was one of the most talked about shows of 2017. It both shocked and entertained audiences and challenged the way the local theatre community works with kids on the stage. A dramedy about a group of superhero sidekicks banished to the “kids’ room” while their mentors form a superhero team in a hotel ballroom below, Boy Wonders featured six performers between the ages of 11 and 13 playing characters their own age, accompanied by local favourite Brad Brackenridge who, although a grown man, is wedged in the role of a “sidekick”.
Boy Wonders wasn’t what many audience members were expecting. Although humourous at times, the show is more of a horror story than a comedy. As the sidekicks open up about their lives, a story filled with abuse, violence, and situations that prevent the kids from living normal lives begins to unfold. What the audience ended up seeing was a drama brilliantly acted by a group of extremely talented kids.
There are two things that made Boy Wonders a winner: the cast and the writing. The audience was introduced to six wonderful young performers — Abbie Dale, Aimee Gordon, Emily Keller, Isaac Maker, Emma Meinhardt, and Samuelle Weatherdon — who created interesting three-dimensional characters the audience came to love. In some cases, audience members found their own favourites (I leaned towards the tragic and angry Target Boy and the poised but sad Boo). Furthermore, these kids were able to keep up with the very experienced performer Brad, who never loomed over the kids but managed to become their equal. Planet 12 proved that kids don’t need to be moving props in musicals, and they can step up to the challenge of creating very thoughtful dramas.
As for the writing, Derek Weatherdon was able to create a world of plot and characters, each which could easily become their own spin-off or sequel. In fact, during a private conversation with Derek he revealed to me that a Boy Wonders sequel isn’t an impossibility.
I also want to give a shout out to Heather Ross for the creation of the show’s costumes. In addition to the period costumes the cast wore throughout the show, the superhero costumes at the end of the show were highly imaginative and a stunning and memorable visual. Boy Wonders contained possibly my favourite costume work on 2017.
A sell out each night it was performed at The Theatre On King, people were unfortunately turned away. However, Boy Wonders will be returning in 2018 as Planet 12 revives the show and takes it to the Toronto Fringe Festival. This should mean some more chances to see this incredible production again. One of my favourite shows of 2017, I can’t wait to see it again.
Raising the Barn
Globus Theatre, August 2017. Written by James Barrett and Sarah Quick. Starring Brandon Swann, Shannon McCracken, Jennine Profeta, Dave Pearce, James Barrett, Sarah Quick, Anna Black, Mark Whelan, Kevin Sepaul, Shelby Camman, and Chris Gibbs.
In this celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Lakeview Arts Barn as a public space, James Barrett and Sarah Quick broke down all the walls of reality with the most experimental show they’ve ever produced for Globus Theatre. Raising the Barn was their first foray into “immersive theatre” where the audience becomes part of a show that happens all around them.
When the son and daughter of two rival Bobcaygeon grocers get married, the town’s mayor (Dave Pearce) books the Lakeview Arts Barn for his daughter’s wedding. However, the barn has already been booked for a theatrical performance so, when the audience arrives for the show, the bride doesn’t know that the audience are not wedding guests.
This is the basic premise for the show. As the real audience arrived, they found themselves intermingling with actors playing colourful characters. The theatre was turned into a wedding dining hall, where the audience watches a wedding, enjoys a feast, and partakes in all of the speeches, drama, and hilarity of a wedding where anything can happen.
With their largest cast yet, James and Sarah brought back many of their most popular actors, including Brandon Swann, Shannon McCracken, Jennine Profeta, Dave Pearce, James Barrett, Sarah Quick, Anna Black, Mark Whelan, Kevin Sepaul, Shelby Camman, and Chris Gibbs. Having so many members of the Globus Theatre family together in one show truly made it seem like a celebration all its own.
An incredible night filled with big laughs, great food, and performances that charmed audiences, Raising the Barn was a whirlwind of a comedy that sometimes thrilled and sometimes confused audiences. However, everyone who walked away from the night will never forget it. Highly creative and truly hilarious, Raising the Barn was the crown jewel of one of Globus’ best seasons yet.
The History of Drinking in Cavan
4th Line Theatre, August 2017. Written and co-directed by Robert Winslow. Co-directed by Monica Dotter. Starring Robert Winslow, Edward Belanger, Cyndi Carleton, Justin Hiscox, Mark Hiscox, Shelley Simester, Kiana Bromley, Maude Rose Craig, Tristan Cruise, Emma Khaimovich, and Gary Reker.
With potentially the most misleading title ever, Rob Winslow’s newest play The History of Drinking in Cavan blindsided people who weren’t prepared for one of the most emotional and personal shows ever performed at the Winslow Farm.
Is the show about the history of drinking in Cavan? Well, sort of — there is a history lesson dealing with the manufacturing of liquor and the pub culture of the Kawarthas. But a show about liquor and boozing wouldn’t interest me very much. What actually makes The History of Drinking in Cavan such a powerful show is that Rob, an iconic arts professional in our community for decades, strips back the veil of his life.
He bares all of his emotions in a show that reveals some of the most painful moments of his life through a look at his often-difficult relationship with his late mother. While audiences have been watching Rob play characters for years, for many this is the first time we’ve ever seen him so raw and open on stage. Some might call it self-indulgent, but I felt it was an incredibly human and brave performance.
Beyond the subject matter, Rob also demonstrated the power he has at controlling a stage and an audience by, in one moment, bringing an uproarious scene to a standstill where the audience was even too scared to breathe. It was one of the most impressive and incredible things I’ve ever seen on the stage.
Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035!
The Nervous System, November 2017. Written and directed by Kate Story. Starring Derek Bell, Brad Brackenridge, Sylvie Dasne, Naomi Duvall, Rob Fortin, Ryan Kerr, Shannon McKenzie, Mike Moring, Susan Newman, Robyn Smith, and Kate Story.
Every once in a while something — a piece of music, an art work, or a show — comes out that challenges you so much that you begin to question the way you create your own craft and the way art is created in the community. For me, it was Kate Story’s apocalyptic tale Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035!.
Presented as the conclusion to the Precarious Arts Festival that ran throughout the month of November, Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! is a terrifying tale of Peterborough in the future, without children and without hope. Weaving local and international politics into a futuristic retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamlin, Kate creates a future that is terrifyingly plausible, in a story that hit far too close to home for comfort.
With its powerful performances, beautiful songs, and the most imaginative use ever of the space at The Theatre On King, Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! is an artistic epic. It challenged me, it was ruthlessly individual, and it had no interest in being a crowd pleaser. It was raw, unhinged, harshly political art, and made me realize that truly good theatre isn’t always created to fill seats. Instead, it fills minds, makes powerful statements, and creates something the audience will think about for days.
Festivus Rattus Rattus 2035! did all of these things for me. In many ways, it changed the way I will look at art and theatre going forward.
Mary Poppins (Best Musical)
St. James Players, November 2017. Directed by Natalie Dorsett. Starring Gillian Harknett, Warren Sweeting, Macayla Vaughan, Ben Freeman, Christie Freeman, Keith Goranson, Jacquie Butler, Robert Ainsworth and more.
Peterborough loves its musical theatre, and many of the shows on this list are technically considered musicals. But when it came to musical theatre in its purest form, Mary Poppins was a triumph all to itself.
I knew this show was going to be special when I visited the St. James Players for a Sunday afternoon rehearsal a few weeks prior to opening. The sense of energy and joy was addictive and, while family theatre is not my favourite genre, Mary Poppins managed to seduce me.
Making a stage star out of Gillian Harknett (who up to that time had played chorus roles) in the lead role and returning longtime leading man Warren Sweeting back to the centre stage in the role of Burt the chimney sweep after a what seemed like a long absence, Mary Poppins far exceeded any expectations with perfect performances by a well-cast company.
I can only think of one or two other other occasions when a musical production in Peterborough has managed to hit this level of polished professionalism. The show was an absolute triumph.
I was also impressed by young actors Macayla Vaughan and Ben Freeman, who actually had the most stage time and lines of the show, and were pushed to stay in step with the more experienced actors sharing the stage. Much like the kids in the Planet 12 Production shows, these two performers had to step up their game and become far more than just human props. Once again, it is great to see kids doing some seriously incredible work on the stage.
In the time I’ve been reviewing local theatre, I have never seen anything like the “Step in Time” number near the climax of the show. I honestly cannot find a publishable phrase to describe what I felt while watching that number. It was just an amazing feat of theatre.
After a few difficult years, St. James Players finally have rebuilt their reputation as a family theatrical institution and, with Mary Poppins, created a show that is going to be tough for anyone to follow. Mary Poppins was practically perfect in every way. Loved by audiences, it was just the fantastical and heart-warming show that we needed. A huge triumph for director Natalie Dorsett and her company at St. James Players.
Here are a few shout-outs for other local productions in 2017:
Everybody Loves Archie
I want to give a big shout-out to Jen and Greg Nugent and the kids in Enter Stage Right’s production of Everybody Loves Archie for giving me a chance to spend some time with them and allowing me into their space to talk about Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronic and the gang at Riverdale High.
As an obsessive Archie collector, I can truly talk about Archie Comics all day, and the time I spent with this engaging and talented cast was a true joy for me. Forget the CW’s Riverdale — they made my Riverdale High dreams come true. I loved the show, and was thrilled to see the characters I love come to life in a way I want to remember themm as well as some of my lesser-known Riverdale friends — such as Cheryl Blossom, Midge Klump and, especially, Ginger Lopez — show up on the Peterborough stage.
I loved talking with all of the cast and want to thank them for making everything Archie.
Eugene Ionesco plays at The Theatre on King
Nothing would get me more excited in 2017 than to hear Ryan Kerr would be directing another one of Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist comedies at The Theatre on King (TTOK). Making a splash with The Bald Soprano in 2016, Ionesco became a trend at TTOK, with each of Ryan’s productions of surrealist playwright’s often difficult play more ambitious than the last.
Ryan brought together a core group of performers — Dan Smith, Matt Gilbert, Kate Story, Lindsay Unterlander, and Andrew Root, and more — for these shows which included Maid to Marry / The Leader and Frenzy for Two, or More. Each of these nonsensical yet hilarious shows had its moments, but one of my very favourite theatrical moments of 2017 was the appearance of “The Leader” as played by a barely recognizable Ryan Kerr in a paper costume.
Ionesco at TTOK is amongst my very favourite theatrical events and I’m hoping for a lot more in 2018. Luckily for those who missed the performances, they are available to view on YouTube — definitely something you’ll want to see.
VIDEO: Maid to Marry / The Leader
VIDEO: Frenzy for Two, or More
New Stages The Page on Stage Reading Series
Possibly the most engaging and often controversial nights of theatre in Peterborough were created by Randy Read when he brought top professional actors and playwrights from Toronto to Market Hall for a series of powerful play readings. Although the actors read the scripts instead of performing them, Randy would often bring the full casts of some of Toronto’s hottest shows for a one-night only performance followed by an audience talk back.
In 2017, Randy dealt with heavy topics such as pedophilia in The Trouble with Mr. Adams, xenophobia in Disgraced and the role of women in modern religion in Unholy. Provocative and hard hitting, these shows challenged the audiences both mentally and emotionally.
Randy has chosen to dedicate most of the current New Stages season to the popular readings, including a two-part reading of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America next April and May. If you’ve yet to go to one of New Stages The Page on Stage readings, this is something you need to put on your list of things to do in 2018.
Wes Ryan’s Trauma-Informed Theatre
When Wes Ryan found his personal story of childhood sexual abuse exploited by an out-of-town theatre company, he fought back in the bravest way possible: by creating a brand new piece of theatre that allowed him to reclaim his own narrative.
These Are Horizon Days featured Wes telling his often-difficult story through a series of disciplines that included dance, art, music, poetry, and drama. Equally funny and heart wrenching, Wes bared his soul and changed lives with his powerful presentation. With this brave and emotional piece, Wes created a very important piece of theatre not only for him but for the audience that saw it. Wes is not only a survivor, but a true artistic treasure.
These Are Horizon Days was not only good theatre but, as Wes told me, it is just the beginning of a bigger project for the future.
Best New Actor in the Kawarthas
Although she is no stranger to the Peterborough stage, it’s hard to believe award-winning musician Lindsay Barr had never acted in theatre before she took on the role of Cheryl in Killer Trees Production’s Evil Dead: The Musical.
Highly animated and with expert comic timing, Lindsay just “killed it” as Ash’s pun-spouting demon-possessed kid sister in a role as hilarious as it was terrifying. With one of the most spirited performances in the show, Lindsay obviously found a new calling as she is slated for two more shows in 2018 — including playing the villainous Captain Hook in St. James Player’s upcoming production of Peter Pan, and recreating the music and the passion of rock icon Janis Joplin in a new musical revue she is producing at Market Hall.
I am excited to see more stage performance by Lindsay in 2018, and I think we’ll be seeing her more and more on the theatre stage for a long time to come.
Photographer Andy Carroll
Last but far from least, once again I want to take a moment to thank local photographer Andy Carroll for being a constant presence in the arts community, and capturing so many of the arts events in our city with his expert eye.
Andy’s photos often occupy many of my articles, and I am constantly amazed the way he captures our city with so much beauty — especially the creativity and the passion of the arts community.
Andy is a true gift to our community. I want to thank him for his constant presence and for generously allowing kawarthaNOW.com to publish his photos.
As I look ahead to 2018, I want to thank everyone in the theatre community who has allowed me into their space, trusted me to see their shows, worked with me to create articles, talked to me about their projects, and shared their art, their vision, and their passion. There needs to be a certain amount of trust in allowing a stranger into a safe artistic space, and I’m grateful that so many people trust me to come into theirs.
Although I am not a performer, you have made me feel more like an extended part of you family this year more than ever, and I value and cherish that. I am your constant audience and your biggest fan. My goal is to always find the attributes that make each of your shows special and to get people in seats. That is how, together, we create a stronger arts community.
Thank you for an incredible year, and I can’t wait to see what is coming up next in 2018.