Highlands Summer Festival has something for everyone
By Sue Tiffin
Summer has arrived and the Highlands Summer Festival is taking to the stage with something for everyone. The festival, which opens June 30, is promising a diverse offering of plays – from a fantasy-filled musical to a one-woman show – as well as a range of generations within the cast. The newest actor to show off his acting chops on stage is eight years old, while one of the most experienced is about seven decades older than that, give or take a few years.
“I love the work,” said artistic director Scot Denton. “There’s nothing quite like watching someone take their curtain call and you can see it in their face that they’re proud of what they did. Nothing like it.”
Some actors are seasoned talent, while others might be taking their first bow this season, but the love of theatre is ensuring productions are something special.
“A woman in Haliburton who has done three seasons with us now, she comes every year, she works with computers all week, she comes to rehearsal and I can see in her eyes, she just loves it.”
Denton said the HSF is unique in that rehearsal begins in April, allowing time to make performances spectacular.
“Because we rehearse on weekends, there’s more time for people to absorb and to work on their own,” he said. “So you can take people, teach them to tap dance, teach them an accent, you’re not just doing it in two-and-a-half weeks.” And it takes time to put together such an ambitious line-up. The 20th season of the HSF includes Mary Poppins, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, The Ladies Foursome, Trudeau Stories and TorQ Percussion Ensemble.
“We’ve been pushing the envelope and the team of volunteers has been stepping up and getting it done,” said Denton. Mary Poppins kicks off the season in a big way, with performances from June 30 to July 9. Denton says it has it all: choreography, musical theatre numbers, and “a lot of costumes in the park.”
“First of all, Mary Poppins is a big, big, show,” he said. “There are lots of locations you have to create, a lot of choreography ... You know, the kids go to the park and it’s all dark and gloomy and serious, and then because Mary and Bert are there, they make it cheery and all of a sudden the people are all wearing bright vests. It’s a big machine.”
Duncan Evans-Fockler, who plays Michael Banks, has been somewhat of an acting sponge, according to Denton.
“He knows it all, and he knows other people’s lines. He just goes in. He sings the notes, he’s singing harmonies...” Likewise, Tate Itani Smith who plays Jane Banks, “is just brilliant,” said Denton.
“She’s 11 years old and just like a professional. She knows how to take the stage, that’s for sure.”
The entire cast is lovely, Denton said, and anticipation is building for the beloved musical.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks runs from July 15 to 19, and 21 to 23. Denton said it will be exciting to see established actor Pru Donaldson, who plays Lily, on the stage, alongside Andrew Bee who plays Michael Minetti, who has been a ballroom dancing teacher off-stage. The production is deemed “funny and provocative,” and will leave people dancing from the theatre at show’s end.
The Ladies Foursome cast has been rehearsing on stage, and also at the golf course. The play tells the story of three friends who find themselves at a loss for a fourth player when a friend dies, but that spot is taken by a stranger who knew the same friend.
“They actually swing golf clubs,” said Denton. “They do the tee off for every hole, and each tee off is a different scene where things are discussed. There’s some testiness and lots of humour and they actually spent some time on the golf course a couple weekends ago, just working on golf and hitting golf balls.
“They rehearsed a bit, they had time to stay there and do the first couple of scenes while they actually hit golf balls. The director said it’s just so valuable to be actually hitting the ball. They mime the tee and the ball in the play. They have golf clubs and they swing through the imaginary ball. And it’s pretty easy to not get that right. But if you go to the golf course and you hit golf balls you go, oh, OK, that’s how long it takes for the ball to go up and for us to watch it. It’s really good.”
Denton said the cast is terrific together, with each actor being as different as the characters are.
“What could be better than four women alone where they can talk about anything they want,” said Denton. “Sometimes it isn’t very much about the golf at all, but you still have to hit the ball and go get it and hit it again.” The Ladies Foursome, by Norm Foster, runs from July 29 to Aug. 2, Aug. 4, and Aug. 6 to 8.
Trudeau Stories, by Brooke Johnson, is on for three performances only: July 10, 11 and 12. “Brooke has created this one-woman show out of experiences she had when she was at the National Theatre School and, well, we’re going to learn the details when we see the show,” said Denton. “She got to know Pierre Trudeau, and they spent time together, and we’re going to find out what happened, and a little bit of what they did, and the intrigue and the strangeness of it.”
Finally, TorQ Percussion Ensemble runs July 24, 25 and 26. “They’re creative artists who use all kinds of instruments to create mood and sound,” said Denton. “They work together and separately and they have a suite they play.”
The HSF website describes the quartet as being, “one of Canada’s premiere percussion ensembles [that] consistently brings new vitality to percussion repertoire and performance in every situation and opportunity.” It notes the percussion music is made “accessible to audiences that span generations.”
Denton is excited for it all. “It’s theatre, it’s storytelling,” he said. “It’s exciting to watch other people learn how to do it.”
And before he signs off with, “see you at the theatre,” he says: “I hope people get to come to the theatre. It’s pretty special.”
For more information about the 20th Highlands Summer Festival season or to book tickets, visit highlandssummerfestival.on.ca or call 705-457-9933 or 1-855-457-9933.