The Farm Show

a collective creation by Theatre Passe Muraille
Erindale Studio Theatre in Mississauga
November 11-13, 1993
A Stage Door Review by Jim Lingerfelt
Originally published in The Teeswater News, December 8, 1993
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 The Farm Show lives on at new UofT stage

At the age of 21, The Farm Show is still as fresh and poignant as the summer it was written. You may remember the original, staged in 1972 in Clinton, a result of a group of Theatre Passe Muraille actors who descended on that farming community to create on of the landmarks of Canadian theatre history.

The original cast, including Janet Amos (recently re-appointed artistic director of the Blyth Festival) and David Fox (now of Road to Avonlea), held meetings and interviews and worked alongside the farm family of the area, including the well known Lobb family who eventually became the central figures in the play. Weaving their stories of rural life, hardships and pleasures into an exciting stage experience fell to Ted Johns, favorite Blyth playwright/actor and husband of Janet Amos. Most of the script cam directly from the actual words of the farmers they interviews, and to whom the play I dedicated.

I didn't see it in 172 but I've often heard of it. Then, by a strange coincidence last weekend, there it was.

Our son Alex invited us to see "some play" his UofT friends were putting on in the newly renovated Erindale Studio Theatre in Mississauga. The Farm Show was revived, an education experience not only in theatre arts, but also in rural Ontario. Most of these kids would probably identify with actor David Buchanan's bio notes in the program: "before becoming acquainted with this play [David] didn't fully understand and appreciate the contribution farming communities make to our society. Was he ever surprised to learn that cookies don't come from the Keebler elves."

In addition to David, the cast included Norah Cleary, Stephanie Langstaff, Britt Lennox, Katie Lumsden, John Metcalf, Gary Penzier, Andrea Scott, Ann Shisko, Jason Storie and Alex Zarowny. Their interpretation of the play (with original music) was charged with energy and humor, with understanding and compassion, a tribute to their school and director Patrick Young.

While we spent most of the production laughing at the antics on stage, at the end it is sobering to hear the same underlying concerns of farm safety, of "fair share," of incredibly hard labor for minimal reward, recited in a play written twenty years ago, unchanged today.

Progress?


Director's notes, as appearing in original Erindale program:

In the summer of 1972, a group of actors descended on an Ontario farming community and created one of the landmarks of Canadian theatre history. The original cast included Janet Amos, Ann Anglin, David Fox, Al Jones, Fina MacDonnell, and Miles Potter, and they were guided by director Paul Thompson; most of the actual words came direct from the farmers they had interviews and to whom the play is dedicated. Eventually, hey were written down on paper by Ted Johns, but by then The Farm Show was already a legend. Johns summed up the experience:

In the early days of that summer of '72, the actors had no idea what they were doing. The dramatic techniques, and the songs, grew out of the actor's attempts to dramatize their discoveries in daily improvisational sessions. At first the result didn't seem like a play: no lights, no costumes, no set, a barn for a theatre, hay bales for seats. Simply pure performance. First in those incredible performances at Clinton, and then again in Toronto, in Saskatchewan in Southern Ontario auction barns, in the palatial art centers of Ottawa, Stratford, and Manitoba, Michael Ondaatje's successful film, a CC television special, several radio version, and finally crowds of strangers asking , "How did you do this?" No one anticipated the delight people would take in hearing their own language and observing their own culture. As John Coulter (author of the play Riel) said, "It's like Ireland I the twenties. The people are discovering themselves."

A company that follows in these hallowed footsteps is not permitted, nevertheless, to be reverential. Instead, they are compelled to take active responsibility for everything from finding their own staging solutions to composing their own tunes. In the case of this production, the responsibilities for the cast extend even to finding costumes, adapting lyrics, and participating indecision about the set. We hope, therefore, that you enjoy our Theatre Erindale version of this extraordinary play, The Farm Show, and that the lives of the people who inspired it come a step closer to you as a result.

Patrick Young

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