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.
For 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.