Thursday, June 22, 2017
Second Season of The Foster Festival set to get underway in St. Catharines
Hard to believe, but the second season of The Foster Festival is now underway at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines. Previews are underway now and the new season officially kicks off tomorrow night, so let's take a few moments and look at what's on tap this year and why you should go...
I noted last season, the Festival's first in St. Catharines, things were a little slow getting off the mark in June, due likely to the fact we simply were not accustomed to live theatre downtown, especially during the summer months. Oh sure, we had Carousel Players and Essential Collective Theatre working out of the theatre space in the old courthouse next to the market during the winter months, but even with all their hard work and quality productions, crowds were often still small and infrequent.
So it was logical to ask if the city would/could support a live theatre festival during the heat of the summer months in downtown St. Catharines, given the right ingredients. The answer now, of course, is a resounding 'yes'.
The right ingredients include a proper and exceptional theatre space in the Cairns Recital Hall at the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, and a festival devoted to the plays of arguably Canada's greatest living playwright, Norm Foster. After all, most if not all Ontario summer theatre festivals feature at least one Norm Foster play per season, simply because they are considered 'guaranteed win' nights for summer theatre.
Norm began his playwriting career with The Melville Boys in 1984 and has not looked back since, producing now an average of one new play per year. Yet amazingly, no theatre festival has ever been devised to celebrate his large catalogue of works like say, the Shaw Festival has built up around the works of George Bernard Shaw.
I remember two summers ago attending the media launch of The Foster Festival downtown, when plans were announced for the new festival the following summer - 2016 - at the new PAC downtown. Hopes and spirits were high the festival would take off and I think as the summer season wore on last year, the somewhat slow start turned into a gallop towards the end as the festival became one of the most talked-about summer events of the season.
That optimism certainly will spill over into this year as the maiden voyage has proven there is indeed an audience out there ready to come downtown and take in some quality theatre on a summer night or one of the matinee performances.
Artistic Director Patricia Vanstone and Executive Director Emily Oriold read the theatrical tea-leaves at the end of the season last year and found some things they could tweak this year, including less early-week performances when audiences were rather thin last year. Their adjustments should ensure more bums are in the seats for performances that remain and everyone will be happy theatrical campers, one would assume.
So, what's on tap for this season, you ask? Not one but two world premieres this year sandwiched between a Foster classic.
Previews are already underway for the first new play of the season, Screwball Comedy, which officially opens tomorrow night at 8 and from what I hear is completely sold out. Set in 1938, the story centres around Mary Hayes, a young wannabe newspaper reporter trying to break into a very male-dominated world. Given a chance to report on a society wedding pits Mary against veteran reporter Jeff Kincaid, in the editor's bad books for his less than sparkling performances as of late.
The dialogue reflects the time period reminiscent of The Front Page, which filled seats at the Shaw Festival several years ago. Screwball Comedy will likely be a perfect start to the season. It runs until July 7th and stars Cosette Derome, Kevin Hare, Darren Keay and Eliza-Jane Scott.
Next up from July 12th to the 28th is Foster's classic Old Love, about a recently divorced Bud meeting newly-widowed Molly. They meet at her husband's funeral, no less, and the story traces their courtship, rekindled romance and the importance of hope. Real-life husband & wife team of Janet Laine-Green and Booth Savage star in the second show of the season.
The second world premiere and final offering of the season is Lunenburg, involving an American widow, Iris, who along with good friend Natalie arrive in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia to a house Iris has inherited from her recently deceased husband. This was all news to Iris, but she meets up with neighbour Charlie who happily brings the girls up to speed on what they need to know. Lunenberg stars Shaw Festival regulars Melanie Janzen, Peter Krantz and Catherine McGregor.
Patricia Vanstone will be busy this summer as she directs all three productions, I'm told. And yes, Norm Foster himself, who starred in the opening show last year opposite Vanstone, will be attending the season launch tomorrow night.
Want tickets? Log on to www.fosterfestival.com for more information and ordering online, or call the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office at 905-688-0722, or stop by the box office downtown to pick up your tickets in advance.
This promises to be a great festival and a wonderful way to spend some time downtown this summer, perhaps catching dinner and a show right in your own backyard. What could be better than that?
Have a great week!
June 22nd, 2017