Volunteering with Players

Saturday, February 17, 2018 10:34 AM

So, this may be one of the most ambitious cartoons I’ve done in a long time - I managed to squeeze 17 characters into one teeny space, 18 if you consider the little puppet on the top left a character and 19 if you count the even smaller bee which has no significance other than I felt the drawing needed a little something at the top, and there actually are a lot of bees working hard for their honey in PEC so its not entirely out of place!

If you are curious as to who these characters are, they represent the talented actors, directors and a few of the exceptional behind-the-scenes people who were involved with the 2017 season of Festival Players of Prince Edward County, the region’s professional theatre company. There actually were MANY more people involved, these are just the folks that I had direct contact with. If you don’t recognize them, fear not! I have listed their names at the end of this piece. If you are not familiar with the organization, Festival Players has been around for over 10 years, and I really think the founders did an exceptional job in laying the groundwork for has grown into a truly wonderful theatre company - I'm pretty excited about what lies ahead.

I had the good fortune of being able to volunteer my services with the Festival Players team last year by doing some PR work for them, and although my contribution paled by comparison to those actually involved in directing, producing, planning, building venues or performing etc – it was an eye-opening experience. Here are a few things in particular that I think makes this company stand out:

Artistic Director, Graham Abbey

(Second from the left in the back row in the drawing above!)

This year (2018), Graham Abbey officially assumes the role of Artistic Director for the company. If you are not familiar with Graham’s work, in a nutshell – he is a critically acclaimed stage, TV and film actor and director with over 30 Stratford Festival roles under his belt. On top of that, he founded the award-winning Toronto-based theatre company called The Groundling Theatre Company. LEAR, starring Seana McKenna in the gender-bending title role with Colin Mochrie playing Lear’s Fool, is the latest Groundling offering that opens for previews in Toronto at the Harbourfront Theatre on January 9th for a three-week run (closes January 28th). Graham has a very unique vision and style, and if you have an opportunity to see LEAR – you must, you won’t be sorry. I saw the two Groundling productions last year (The Winters Tale and Measure for Measure) and found them to be incredibly inventive and fresh. While I’ve always had an appreciation for Shakespeare, his unique direction made me love his work (actually - both Shakespeare’s and Graham’s). It is extremely exciting that he is bringing such an intriguing vision to PEC.

Intimate venues

Some of the venues are incredibly intimate. For example, The Storefront Theatre in Wellington seats roughly 60 people and honestly – there isn’t a bad seat in the house. In October, through Festival Players we saw a couple of productions there including the ridiculously creative and critically acclaimed The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy, (a quirky/macabre and fascinating puppet show for adults) created and performed by Eric Woolfe. We also saw the award-winning True Crime, created by and starring none other than Torquil Campbell – probably best known as the co-front person of the iconic band, Stars, but also an exceptionally talented actor and writer in his own right (if you missed this production – it is returning to its place of inception at Toronto’s Crow Theatre from January 16-20 – you must also see it!!). After the play that evening, we headed across the street to The Drake Devonshire Hotel for “Memphis Tuesday” (their open mic night) where Torquil got up and performed for us. And if that wasn’t already awesome enough – Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo) also happened to be in the audience and he also got up and performed. I remember turning to Tim to say, “is this really happening?!? Stuff like this NEVER happened to us in Toronto… ”. Honestly, to be able witness such talent and acclaimed works in such an intimate setting is a gift.

Watching the talent discover and embrace the beauty of Prince Edward County

This was a pretty amazing thing to watch unfold both through personal conversations and social media posts. During a welcome lunch prior to the launch of the season, I recall chatting at length with Bruce Dow (an extremely talented award-winning actor and super nice guy) and he could not get over how remarkable the area was and was terribly eager to experience more of it. And, it was really fun to follow the various actors through social media and watch them bond as a team while discovering the beauty of the area.

Professional theatre and inspiring productions staged by passionate and talented professionals in the most gorgeous and culturally rich setting you can imagine

Prince Edward County has so much to offer, I could go on and on. Actually – I do go on and on quite regularly about it! From a bustling wine industry, a rapidly growing craft beer industry, fiercely talented chefs and artists scattered throughout the region, hard-working farmers churning out incredible produce not to mention the stunning scenery ranging from world-class beaches (Sandbanks!), spectacular and seemingly endless shorelines, rolling hills to pristine farmland. And, to top it off – Festival Players is attracting top-notch talent and intriguing productions to the region. While the island has always been brimming with arts and culture (and PEC is an island – a lot of people don’t realize that), it is growing into somewhat of a cultural mecca that just so happens to be conveniently nestled between the bustling centres of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.

Season details and how to get tickets

The Festival Players summer/fall season will take place throughout the months of July to October this year. If you are planning to visit PEC this summer/fall, do yourself a favour and plan to take in at least one of these productions. The season lineup will likely be announced in coming weeks – but flex passes are available for purchase now. You can follow the Festival Players social pages (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) or subscribe to their newsletter to keep up to date on announcements. Or, you can also simply visit www.festivalplayers.ca.

The takeaway from my experience with Festival Players is that if you are a fan of live theatre, and you want to see top-notch talent and productions in incredibly intimate venues in a breath-taking location – Prince Edward County is the place to be for it. And, even if you aren’t a frequent live theatre-goer – do yourself a favour and give this a shot, you won’t regret it and you may even find yourself a live-theatre convert.

I mostly wanted to make sure this is on your radar for when you start planning your summer getaways :) With the winter we are having so far this year - I think it is prime time to start planning for the sunny and warmer days that invariably lie ahead!!

Drawing legend (I've added links where I could find them!!):

Front row (lying down): Actor/Director Bruce Dow

Second row from left to right: Actors Geoffrey Armour, Anna Hardwick, Gabriella Albino, Connor Thompson

Third row, from the left: Actors Neil Babcock, Siobhan O’Malley, Luke Kimball, Alex Furber, Philip Knox; Director Jeanette Lambermont-Morey, and actor/director Dylan Trowbridge

Back row, from left to right: Actor/Artist/Creator Eric Woolfe, Artistic Director Graham Abbey, Managing Director and Producer Julianne Snepsts; Musician, Actor, Writer Torquil Campbell; and Actor, Developer Anthony Lemke