Blyth Festival announces epic 2019 Season

Heather Boa Blog

BLYTH, ON – The 2019 Season of the Blyth Festival promises to be even more successful than this past season, which saw more than 26,000 visitors come to see five mainstage productions.

“This will be a season on an epic scale, a season of triumphs, trials, tolerance, team work…and…tusks,” said Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt, announcing the 2019 Season during its annual fund-raising event on Oct. 18.  The 2019 Season Image, created by Blyth artist Kelly Stevenson, was also unveiled.

Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt announces the 2019 Season at the Blyth Barn Bash fun-raiser on Oct. 18, 2018.

The 2019 Season will be another extended season, with 106 performances of five plays on its mainstage, running from early June until the end of September.

The season also includes its banner foray taking The Pigeon King to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa (April 24 to May 5), and will feature another series of works in the Phillips Studio, including the Blyth Festival Young Company.

The 2019 Season includes:

JUNE 12 to AUGUST 10

JUMBO by Sean Dixon

It’s one of the biggest stories in the history of South Western Ontario. Literally.

From playwright Sean Dixon (The Wilberforce Hotel, Lost Heir, The Outdoor Donnellys), comes the story of one of the biggest icons in show business, the one, the only, Jumbo the Elephant.

In the early fall of 1885, P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth toured South Western Ontario, playing to sold-out crowds in the tens of thousands in Guelph, St. Thomas, and London. On the bill, among the snake charmer, the aerialists, the tightrope walkers, the contortionists, and the famous bearded lady, Annie Jones, were 28 elephants led by the world renowned Jumbo.

Born in Sudan and orphaned by ivory hunters, Jumbo the elephant won the hearts of the world through his time at the London Zoo. Dazzling onlookers with his immense size, and giving rides to children throughout the zoo grounds, Jumbo was already a huge attraction when P.T. Barnum bought him to include in his world- famous circus. When the elephant arrived in New York Harbour, the crowds filled the piers, hopeful they would see the legend in the flesh for the first time in North America. An instant sensation on the circus circuit, Jumbo the Elephant soon became the highest paid performer in the world, human or otherwise.

Between their stops in Guelph and London, Barnum’s circus played the bustling railroad city of St. Thomas, Ontario to standing ovations. But that fateful night, when the circus cars were being packed back up, an unscheduled freight train travelling unbrakeably fast through the railyard ended the career, and the life, of the biggest superstar in the world.

A cast of larger-than-life characters, including PT Barnum himself, Matthew Scott the elephant trainer, Bearded Annie Jones, and a world-famous taxidermist, fill this riveting play that brings a Jumbo-sized Ontario history to life.

JUNE 26 to AUGUST 10

CAKE-WALK by Colleen Curran

In celebration of our 45th anniversary, we are bringing back one of the sweetest, most requested revivals in our decorated history. Cake-Walk by Colleen Curran is a delicious comedy that premiered at the Blyth Festival in 1984 and went on to international acclaim.

In honour of Canada Day, a small town decides to hold a cake baking competition at the local fairgrounds and everyone from the community is lining up for the chance to win a dream vacation and county-wide bragging rights.

It’s enough to bring a local nun out of her habit, send a mother-of-the-bride running with five layers (topper and all), and to unleash the winner-take-all cut-throat tactics of the town’s normally dependable Boy Scout troop leader. The oven mitts are off.

Someone’s going home with the trophy, and someone is getting butter-creamed.

With five hilarious roles for women, this show will be icing on our 45th anniversary cake.

JULY 31 to SEPTEMBER 5

TEAM ON THE HILL by Dan Needles

Few Canadian writers have had the kind of hand- in-work-glove relationship to rural audiences that

Dan Needles has had. Winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, Needle’s Wingfield series has been performed all over Canada, including on the CBC and at the Stratford Festival. Member of the Order of Canada, Needles is well known for his work as an artist with his hand on the plow.

Team on the Hill carries all of Needles’ wit and unparalleled observation of farm life into a rich, funny, and moving family drama about life on the home-farm, complete with its nostalgia for the way things used to be, and struggles with succession.

The Ransier farm is a working cattle farm on the north side of a drumlin. Austin Ransier, the patriarch of the Ransier family, has farmed this land his whole life. An ambitious, hard-working farmer in his youth, Austin now finds himself relegated to mending the fences and sitting like a sentry on the porch. His grandson Larry, fresh from agriculture school, is ready to take on the mantle, and has a wellspring of new ideas from college, and a different approach to the inputs and outputs than those that have kept the farm alive for generations.

Austin’s son Ray, Larry’s father, wants none of it. As son and grandson wrestle over the future of the land, a developer with motivated investors and blueprints for a golf course arrives to complicate matters. Are there ever enough acres for father and son to work side by side?

AUGUST 7 to SEPTEMBER 6

IN THE WAKE OF WETTLAUFER conceived by Kelly McIntosh, written by Kelly McIntosh with Gil Garratt and others

Between August of 2007 and September 2016, nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer murdered eight people in her charge, and attempted to take the lives of six others.

In the wake of Wettlaufer’s conviction, a public inquiry was launched, the ultimate findings of which will be released in the spring of 2019. The testimony of colleagues, supervisors, employers, patients, union reps, physicians, psychologists, surviving families who lost loved ones, and victims who survived her attempts, has revealed damning truths about this serial killer and the environment she exploited, right here in South Western Ontario.

The play follows a group of siblings who are in the process of moving their elderly father into long-term care. The family grapples with all of the struggles families in this circumstance endure: unresolved rivalries, differences of opinion in the level of care, location (siblings spread across the country), arm wrestling over power-of-attorney, and their conflicting memories of their lives with their father.

The care home where their father has been placed turns out to have been the same as one Wettlaufer killed in. After the case breaks, and the confession has been made public, the siblings become deeply concerned with the details of the case in the media, and ultimately attend the inquiry and take in as many of the commission’s proceedings as they can.

Is the system broken? How do we entrust the waning years of our loved ones into a system that would seemingly shield a shadow like this in its corners?  How does this change? How do we ensure this never happens again?

SEPTEMBER 11 to SEPTEMBER 28

BED AND BREAKFAST by Mark Crawford

In five short years, Mark Crawford has gone from a never-produced playwright making his debut with Blyth Festival as the author of 2014’s Stag and Doe to being one of the most produced playwrights in all of Canada. Of Crawford’s four plays for adults, three premiered at Blyth (Stag and Doe 2014, The Birds and the Bees 2016, and The New Canadian Curling Club 2018). In 2015, Crawford wrote Bed and Breakfast as part of his time with Thousand Island Playhouse’s playwrights unit. The show premiered in the Firehall Theatre in Gananoque, and has since seen multiple productions, most notably at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal, the Belfry in Victoria, BC, and at Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto.

The play follows Brett and Drew, a young professional couple caught in the stifling, soul-crushing climb up the corporate ladder in Toronto. Living together in a miniscule condo, and trying in vain to carve out a future, the clouds suddenly part when Brett’s beloved Aunt Maggie passes away and leaves her nephew her stately Victorian home in the tiny tourist town where Brett grew up.

Faced with another year in the rat-race, or the fantasy of moving to the country and opening a B&B, they decide to embark on a new frontier of lavender pillow sachets and fresh scones, far from the fumes of the 401.

But can these big city boys really adapt to a life with fewer lattés? Can the chin wagging locals at the gas bar cope with change? Is the sleepy little town ready to welcome Brett back to the fold?

Bed and Breakfast is a slap-down, drag ’em out comedy about being truly “out” in small town Ontario; a heartfelt knee-slapper about the secrets that we keep, and the sometimes challenging joy of choosing a place to call home.

Passes are now on sale for the 2019 season. Call the Box Office at 1.877.862.5984 or online at blythfestival.com. Buy before Dec. 25 and save up to 23 per cent over single ticket prices.

Blyth Festival acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Ontario Arts Foundation.

The Blyth Festival is a professional theatre that enriches the lives of its audience by producing and developing plays that give voice to both the region and the country. The theatre produces a repertory summer season of exclusively Canadian theatre, with an emphasis on new work. Blyth Centre for the Arts, including the Blyth Festival, was founded in 1975.

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Photo cutline: The season image, by Blyth artist Kelly Stevenson, features the newly-renovated Blyth Centre for the Arts building, including Memorial Hall, the link (which contains the Bainton Art Gallery) and the administration offices.