Shakespeare by the Sea

Audience waiting for the show to start

Last week, we saw a wonderful production of Robin Hood by Shakespeare by the Sea. The company performs outdoors in Point Pleasant Park, unless it’s raining, in which case they have an indoor space available.

This year, the plays are staged at the Cambridge Battery, a set of ruined fortifications  in the middle of the park. You couldn’t invent such a backdrop. At intermission, kids of all ages explored the set, if only to see the view of the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

We were treated to great hilarity, exciting swordfights, intriguing a capella harmonies, endearing characters (yes you, Sven), modern cultural references, a classic storyline with a contemporary twist, and a professional ensemble cast. I highly recommend Robin Hood for anyone age 4 and up.

Even if you are unaccompanied by a child, you will enjoy the play!

The company is also performing two Shakespeare plays this summer: A Comedy of Errors and Measure for Measure. We hope to see at least one of them in the next two weeks. Their season ends September 4. See their site for showtimes.

If you’ve seen any of their productions this year, feel free to leave a comment.

Two Planks and a Passion

In 1991, my father met a young couple on a train.

Dad was returning to Halifax after a post-retirement tour across Canada, and they were traveling from Toronto to Halifax, so there was lots of time to talk.

They wanted to start a theatre company in Nova Scotia — a “farm theatre”. He thought it was an interesting combination. Impressed, he suggested that either the Mosquodoboit Valley or the Annapolis Valley would be a good location.

The couple, Chris O’Neill and Ken Schwartz, chose the latter. In 1992, with little more than “two planks and a passion”, a grand vision, and large doses of talent and savvy, they set up a theatre company.

Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Company logoFor 15 years Two Planks and a Passion was on the road. They produced and toured relevant and memorable plays by the likes of Daniel McIvor and Drew Hayden Taylor. Just as often,  Ken and Chris penned their own plays, bringing to the stage Nova Scotian stories with broad relevance, such as The Butterbox Babies and Westray: The Long Way Home.

Meanwhile, Chris and Ken were raising a family that included twins. The demands of touring were making the dream of a farm theatre more and more appealing.

Finally the dream took root on an old farm at Ross Creek, on the North Mountain near Canning.

With Chris as Executive Director, The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts provides enriching experiences for working artists while training the next generation of artists. There are camps and other programs for kids and adults.  At the other end of the spectrum, the Centre provides opportunities for professional artists to retreat from the world and create, or to engage in unique ways with the community.

Two Planks and a Passion is now the Centre’s resident theatre company.  Each summer, under Ken Schwartz’s inspired direction, they create magical outdoor theatre “off the grid”, using the expansive landscape, original plays based on the classics with modern relevance, and some of the finest talent around.

This year’s Theatre off the Grid production is Beowulf, the ancient classic story re-imagined by Rick Chafe. It has garnered great reviews (and another). It is a strong production that left me in awe of the solidity of the acting, the direction and the story.

Beowulf is only playing until August 6th.  See it if you possibly can! Tickets are available here.


Summer Day Camps at the South Shore Waldorf School

Children dance with butterfly wings at the South Shore Waldorf School. Click photo to visit camp descriptions.

Looking for activities for your creative kid(s) this summer?  Maybe you’ll be visiting Nova Scotia and would like something special for the children to do while you’re on the South Shore visiting Mahone Bay, Lunenburg, Chester, LaHave, Rissers Beach etc.

Every summer, a group of creative artists, theatre folk and teachers have been hosting Day Camps at the South Shore Waldorf School in Blockhouse, near Mahone Bay.  For little ones aged 3-7 there is the “Morning Glory” program, and for an older age group, variously 4-12, there is “Summer Arts“, including a week for early teens aged 12-15 in August.   You can attend for just a day or for a week at a time.  Programs and teachers change from week to week, so check out the program.

The school is in a beautiful, natural setting with fields, woods, swings and other play structures, and an enclosed play area for little ones.  The school itself is a beautiful old building with lots of character, polished by 100 years of little hands and footsteps.  A new annex has expanded the school’s capacity to provide art and nature based education in the Waldorf tradition.

Tourists are very welcome at the Day Camps.  Some of the teachers speak German or French.

Community Theatre: The Three Musketeers

Boo the bad guys, cheer the good guys and coo at the young lovers. That’s the traditional British Pantomime style: no stiff upper lip, no hoity-toity “theatah, dahling,” just good Fun for the Folks in a form that dates back centuries. And no, it has nothing to do with the gentle “mime” of Marcel Marceau. Except that this year’s play takes place in Paris, where you might go to that windmill place to dine on a Folly Burger, and see a tower that’s quite an eye-full. (Get it?)

South Shore Players‘ all-new, original, “The Three Musketeers” has finished its two-weekend run to full houses in the Pearl Theatre in Lunenburg, amazing us again at the wealth of talent around here. The sheer volume of effort that goes into such a community production contributes hugely to local spirit and culture, and the quality of the result instills pride and loyalty to the place.

Written by Jon Allen and Dave Brumwell, two transplanted Brits with fine comedic skills and a love of playing to a crowd in outrageous costumes, “The Three Musketeers” was full of cleverness and punnyness. Cross-dressing was so prominent that it seemed not to matter whether a part was being played by a man or a woman. Never mind that there are always more women trying out for parts than men, this is a traditional feature of “panto” that gives a delicious freedom to the imagination of both actors and audience, and makes for a lot of laughs.

Half a dozen musicians formed a very fine orchestra which endured numerous disparaging jokes from the actors, all in good fun.

Students from local schools were encouraged to contribute jokes and the winners each had a night to participate in the play, in costume and makeup, thus gaining a first experience on stage.

The Christmas Pantomime has become a multi-generational family tradition for us. Maybe one of us will someday take part….

“Rockbound” musical a jaw-dropping production

Since we live and sail on Mahone Bay and have come to know most of its islands by sight, I read Frank Parker Day’s 1928 novel Rockbound with great interest.  I wasn’t the only one.  Thanks to CBC’s Canada Reads program, the previously obscure novel has been lionized by the Canadian literary establishment and the public.

One of the book’s biggest fans is my mother.  She has read it several times.  When I took her sailing around East Ironbound Island, the setting for the novel, the binoculars and cameras were in constant use.

If Day’s characters were as thinly disguised as his settings, it’s no wonder that the locals he met on Ironbound felt betrayed by his portrayal of hard-drinking, feuding fishing families eking out a hardscrabble living on a small island.  But they are long gone now, and new generations of readers marvel at the dramatic sweep of his story, his vivid characterizations and the detailed portrayal of pre-industrial fishing.  For me, Rockbound has made the outer islands of Mahone Bay come alive with the ghosts of those who have gone before.  Imagine rowing from Tancook to Ironbound, from Ironbound to Pearl (“Barren Island” in the novel) – well, I can’t, really, but characters that I have come to care for do just that in the novel, so I believe it is possible.

Poster for Rockbound, the musical. Click picture to visit Two Planks website.

When I heard that Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Company was developing Rockbound as a musical, I was astonished and very curious.  Written by Allen Cole and under development since 2006, it is now playing “off the grid” (outdoors) at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, half an hour north of Wolfville.  My mother and I, both very excited, went last Wednesday.

From the opening song, my questions and doubts about how a musical format would serve the story were laid to rest.  My ears were awash in delicious sound and my jaw remained in my lap for much of the performance.  Harmonically and rhythmically complex and expressive, the music transcends genres and beautifully evokes the epic story and the setting.   The acting and singing were wonderful.  How else could this play have been done?  The music elevates the story, poeticizes it, universalizes it.

I hope to see Rockbound again when it comes to Chester Playhouse August 13-16.  Meanwhile it is playing until August 9 at Ross Creek.  Not to be missed.