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.
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:
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.