PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER: Warms up Classic Theatre Festival Stage in August

Fans of gripping psychological thrillers are in luck as the Classic Theatre Festival opens its annual mystery thriller, Angel Street (also known as Gaslight) starting August 17 in Perth. This story of an unsolved murder and the lethal mind games employed to protect the main suspect is considered one of the best plays of the genre, a cat-and-mouse struggle for survival that leaves audiences on the edge of their seats until the final curtain.

Angel Street takes audiences back to Victorian-era London, and nights of thick fog and shadowy figures lurking in the distance. Its author, Patrick Hamilton, also penned another mystery mega-hit, Rope, which became an Alfred Hitchcock film, as well as a series of novels that in recent years have been rediscovered and acclaimed for their insights into the underbelly of London and the lives of those living on the margins.

When Angel Street opened on Broadway, it catapulted its young male lead, Vincent Price, into superstardom, while also providing a plum role to Canadian-raised actor Judith Evelyn. When a British film version was made in 1940, all the negatives and prints were bought up and destroyed by MGM, which preferred to keep the story for its own star, Ingrid Bergman.

Anyone familiar with the popular social media term ‘gaslighting’ – whereby manipulators intentionally set up misdeeds or falsehoods and then question the sanity of victims who challenge what is going on – will recognize why the term was inspired by this play. Written at a time when modern psychology was becoming a critical reference point in popular culture, the idea of gaslighting rapidly became a signifier of abusive relationships on both personal and political levels.

As the Classic Theatre Festival prepares for its annual mystery thriller Angel Street (Gaslight), there’s still time to catch Mrs. Warren’s Profession. (Colin Legge, Nicholas Rice, Catherine McNally, Anna Burkholder, Kyle Orzechs, photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

Starring in this all-time classic is Jeffrey Aarles (returning after his lauded role last season as a conflicted minister in Shaw’s Candida) and Jessica Sherman, who has spent over a dozen years training and working on the UK stage. Also appearing are a trio of performers seen on stages across Canada as well as on TV and film: Sheldon Davis, Darla Biccum, and Lauren Horejda (who played the haunted target of gaslighting in last year’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight).

Before Angel Street opens, there’s still time to catch George Bernard Shaw’s wickedly satirical take on social hypocrisy, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, a story about the reveal of a family secret, the men who dance around its uncomfortable truths, and an epic mother-daughter showdown. It continues to play on the Festival mainstage until August 12.

Those interested in street-level theatre can continue to enjoy the annual walking plays, with this year’s stories set during World War II. The Prisoner of Petawawa runs Wed. to Sun. at 11 am while the musical tribute to war brides, Far From Home, plays Thurs. & Fri. at 7 pm.

With 16 shows per week, the Classic Theatre Festival, running until Sept. 9, offers something for everyone. Tickets are available at or 1-877-283-1283.

MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION: Sparks Inspired Discussions at Classic Theatre Festival

Catherine McNally (left) as Mrs. Warren confronts her daughter Vivie (Anna Burkholder) in the compelling Mrs. Warren’s Profession, a legendary Shaw play running at Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival until August 12.  (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

George Bernard Shaw’s legendary play about the gradual reveal of a family secret, the men who dance around its uncomfortable truths, and an epic mother-daughter showdown has sparked a good deal of introspection and discussion during the ongoing staging of Mrs. Warren’s Profession at the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth.

The play, which runs until August 12 at 54 Beckwith Street East (at Harvey), is centred in the Victorian era, a time when women had no right to vote or own property, and their status was described by John Stuart Mill as akin to slavery. It is against this backdrop that characters who have made certain choices for survival are challenged to justify their positions. As the show progresses, Festival audiences have found themselves debating during intermission and after the final curtain exactly what they think about Mrs. Warren, her daughter Vivie, and the men who are part of their world.

It’s exactly as Shaw would have liked it, given his penchant for a good debate and his interest in seeing changes to the vast social inequality that marked his age. Modern audiences arriving in Perth from as far away as Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, as well as U.S. destinations, are engaging with the play not only as an entertainment – it is certainly a compelling show that mixes drama and comedy – but also as a mirror held up to 2018, when sexual inequality still exists both in Canada and around the globe.

Indeed, a 2015 UN Human Rights report raised concerns about “the persisting inequalities between women and men” in Canada, including the “high level of the pay gap” and its disproportionate effect on low-income women, racialized women, and Indigenous women. Out of 34 countries in the OECD, Canada had the 7th highest gender wage gap in 2014.

And while there certainly have been improvements since the Victoria era, in Canada, the average amount earned by full-time working women in Canada for every dollar earned by men is 74 cents. Based on a wage gap of 31.5% in Ontario, it currently takes women an additional 14 years to earn the same pay collected by men by age 65. The Canadian Women’s Foundation notes that 80% of all lone-parent families are headed by women, while women who leave an abusive partner to raise children on their own are more than five times likely to live in poverty.

“It’s against this backdrop that we can create a lens through which we view Mrs. Warren’s Profession and ask ourselves: is it her choice that we condemn, or is it the society that limits her choices to begin with that needs a closer examination,” says Matthew Behrens, the Classic Theatre Festival Associate Producer who discusses these issues during daily pre-show talks a half hour before the show.

“We are witnessing very spirited discussions, and people also leave the theatre with a sense of having taken a remarkable journey, which is another part of the theatrical experience,” he says.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession plays Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows every Wednesday and Saturday. For tickets to this show, the theatrical walking plays that continue to animate the streets of downtown Perth, as well as the Festival’s annual mystery thriller, Angel Street (Gaslight), call 1-877-283-1283 or visit

FAR FROM HOME: Brings 40’s-style Dancing in the Streets to Perth

There’s plenty of singing and dancing in the outdoor musical tribute to 1940s war brides, Far Frome Home, running Thursdays and Fridays at 7 pm in Perth until the end of August, 2018. It features, left to right, Connor Lyon, Katie Irvine, Mallory Brumm, and Connor Williamson (photo: Jean-Denis Labelle).

It’s not every day that the streets of Perth turn into a scene from a classic musical like Singing in the Rain or On the Town, but that’s exactly what happens this summer every Thursday and Friday from 7 to 8 pm with the Classic Theatre Festival production of Far From Home.

Passersby and drivers alike have done double takes as they see individuals wearing 1940s costumes singing and dancing their way down Gore Street. Far From Home is set in 1945 as the war winds down and people try to adjust to the major changes they experience in civilian life.

This music-filled tribute to the war brides who arrived in Perth after the Second World War is a family-friendly show that enlivens the sidewalks and alleyways next to Perth’s award-winning architectural facades. Indeed, they turn loading docks and assorted alleyways and courtyards into impromptu stages for dance numbers like Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, a comic song that many a soldier applauded when thinking of the dreaded early bugle calls in the armed services.

The show’s characters also illustrate the uninhibited joy that often marked homecomings from the war (and which was celebrated in many movies of the era too). Indeed, people were ready to party after five years of food rations, air raid sirens, and long waits for letters home that were often cut up by the military censors. Young people who had had to cut short their teenage years and assume adult responsibilities embraced one last opportunity to be kids again, and that exuberance comes through in Far From Home.

The show will appeal especially to fans of swing music and dancing, with songs like I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo, In the Mood, For Me and My Gal, and Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me) given vivacious renditions by the talented troupe that also performs the morning walking play, The Prisoner of Petawawa: Mallory Brumm, Katie Irvine, Connor Lyon, and Connor Williamson. The show was directed by Joanna McAuley Treffers.

Playwright  Laurel Smith notes that war brides often found that their adjustment to new lives was not as easy as one would think, given that there were still significant cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and Canada. Those differences make for some very funny moments, while tender renditions of torch songs like White Cliffs of Dover bring to life the heartfelt emotion that made putting a nickle into the jukebox at the Perth Tea Rooms such a romantic moment.

The Classic Theatre Festival is continuing to run on its mainstage the hit Shaw play, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, about the gradual reveal of a family secret, and is also planning the final mainstage show of the season, Angel Street (aka Gaslight), a riveting psychological thriller.

Tickets to all Festival shows are available at or 1-877-283-1283.

REDISCOVERED COMIC GEM: Opens Classic Theatre Season June 22

The Classic Theatre Festival’s 9th season offers something for everyone, from walking plays and dinner theatre to mainstage comedies and mysteries. Returning for his 8th season is veteran performer Scott Clarkson, seen here with his co-star Victoria Houser. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

The Classic Theatre Festival in Perth opened its 9th summer season June 22 with a rediscovered comic gem, John Van Druten’s There’s Always Juliet. Playing at its wheelchair accessible, air conditioned 54 Beckwith Street East venue, the play embodies much of what makes unique the Festival’s mandate to produce hits from the golden age of Broadway and the London Stage.

“We pick plays that bring back fond memories and sensations, like the feeling you  get when you watch the film It’s A Wonderful Life every December with your friends and family, or you hum along to a wonderful Ella Fitzgerald song,” says Artistic Producer and Director Laurel Smith.

There’s Always Juliet asks whether love at first sight truly exists. Sparks fly after a British woman meets an American man at a London tea party, but how far will things go in this charming, cross-border romantic comedy set in 1927 London, England? “If you love the charming romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s (think Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart and Carole Lombard), this one’s for you,” says Smith.

There’s Always Juliet features an ensemble of Festival veterans including Scott Clarkson, who returns for his 8th season after a star turn in last year’s audience favourite, Same Time, Next Year; Festival newcomer Victoria Houser, a Toronto actor and singer originally from Halifax; Catherine Bruce (last seen here in the award-winning Arms and the Man); and Fraser Elsdon (from the Festival’s An Inspector Calls and Candida).

Over 80% of the Festival’s summer audience is tourists, thousands of whom arrive in Perth annually to take in plays, as well as eat, shop, and stay overnight, boosting the local economy. The Festival also books some of Canada’s top theatre and film/television talent, with actors who have performed across the country and been seen on screens around the world.

Over the past two years, the Classic Theatre Festival has also garnered a record-breaking nine Capital Critics Awards nominations for artistic excellence (more than any other company in Eastern Ontario, including the National Arts Centre), clearly putting Perth on the must-visit destination itinerary of many travelers.

“One of the pleasures of an Ottawa Valley summer is Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival, which has an impressive track record for mounting quality fare,” enthuses Jamie Portman, one Canada’s most respected veteran theatre writers and a member of the prestigious Capital Critics Circle.

Smith points out that while the Classic Theatre Festival’s award-winning shows regularly receive critical praise and audience raves, they are also proud to “serve as a cultural hub and gateway to the many wonders of Ontario’s Highlands, where authentic experiences, unrehearsed days, and unexpected moments await (see for details).”

The Festival’s summer season officially kicked off June 5 at Michael’s Table restaurant, where the Classic Dinner Theatre is staging the Shaw comedy Overruled. Seats for the brand new dinner theatre experience, which runs Tuesdays until August 28, are already 90% sold out, so those looking for “a most entertaining meal” should book soon.

The summer will also feature two more classics on the mainstage – the mother-daughter conflict and gradual reveal of a family secret in Mrs. Warren’s Profession and the gripping tale of an unsolved murder, Angel Street (aka Gaslight). The annual historic walking plays return as well, with two World War II-era shows: The Prison of Petawawa runs at 11 am, Wednesday to Sunday from June 27, while Far From Home, a tale of Perth war brides, runs Thursdays and Fridays at 7 pm, starting July 5.

Tickets to There’s Always Juliet (which runs June 22 to July 15, Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wednesday and Saturday) as well as all other Festival shows are available at 1-877-283-1283 or

CLASSIC DINNER THEATRE: Premieres in Perth June 5

Every Tuesday evening this summer, the 2018 Classic Dinner Theatre and Michael’s Table present the hilarious G.B. Shaw comedy, Overruled – about two couples confronted by an unconventional challenge – along with a sumptuous three-course, home-cooked meal.

Classic Dinner Theatre and Michael’s Table present the G.B. Shaw comedy, Overruled every Tuesday from June 5 to Aug. 28, 2018.

Performed by some of Lanark and Renfrew Counties’ most talented up-and-coming performers – including Mallory Brumm, Katie Irvine, Connor Lyon, and Connor Williamson – the brand-new dinner theatre experience represents an extension of the annual summertime Classic Theatre Festival, which already features three mainstage professional productions, as well as a morning walking play and an evening ghost play.

“Our mandate period of performing classics from the golden age of Broadway and the London Stage is perfectly suited for dinner theatre,” explains Artistic Producer Laurel Smith. “I also think it’s something that’s primed for a comeback in an age when there’s only so much binge-watching people can do at home before they start to long for the connection of a live performance experience like this one.”

While dinner theatres sprung up across North America after World War II and reached their heyday in the 1960s and 70s, they have been enjoying a resurgence as companies like the Classic Theatre Festival and Michael’s Table come together around shared values of artistic and culinary excellence. “It’s a great opportunity to tickle your funny bone, please your palette, and create a memory you’ll enjoy long after the final curtain,” Smith says.

The Classic Theatre Festival decided to launch the new dinner theatre based on audience feedback about additional activities they would like to enjoy while attending a mainstage show. Given that 80% of audiences are tourists, a key request was getting home before sundown, and with a running time of 5 to 7 pm from June 5 to August 28, that should pose no problem for travellers coming from as far as two hours away.

The Michael’s Table menu will be offering four special entrees, with soul and salad and dessert and coffee or tea. Tickets for the experience will be $48 (which includes all box office charges, taxes and gratuities.)

With limited seating and strong advance word of mouth, seats are already selling fast. To reserve dinner theatre seats – and to enjoy the Festival’s early bird offers, which expire May 15 – contact 1-877-283-1283 or visit

VIOLENCE PREVENTION EDUCATOR: Shares Timely Message with Lanark Youth

One of Canada’s leading women’s rights educators and advocates, Julie Lalonde (upper left), visited Perth last week to meet with members of the Burning Passions Theatre youth troupe, including (clockwise from top left) Ryan Kreissler, playwright/director Laurel Smith, Mary Cowan, Lu Williams, Ruby Davidson, and Winston Mavraganis.

One of Canada’s leading women’s rights educators and advocates, Julie Lalonde, visited Perth last week to meet with members of the Burning Passions Theatre youth troupe. Lalonde is acting as a primary consultant for a new play on the #MeToo movement exploring the aftermath of sexual assault, Every Friday, that tours Lanark County schools and youth centres for the last two weeks of April.

As someone who for 15 years has been active on the front lines of ending violence against women, the Governor General’s Award-winning advocate, who frequently appears in the national media as a go-to person for her expertise on such violence, shared important lessons with members of the youth troupe.

Lalonde chronicled a remarkable history that included leading a seven-year effort to establish the first sexual assault centre at Carleton University. It was an uphill battle, she recalled, because the administration refused to recognize the extent of rape culture on campus, claiming that to acknowledge the problem might hurt the school’s reputation znd discourage prospective students.

In response, Lalonde and a group of like-minded colleagues wrote petitions, held a town hall where the need to provide such a service was made obvious, and started an 18-hour-a-day support line that existed for years as the political struggle went on. While Carleton brought in a football team and built a new arena, it always claimed there was no funding available for a sexual assault centre.

“We heard horrible stories,” Lalonde says, often from women who had never before had their experiences framed within the context of naming the violence done to them as sexual assault. “We were hearing stories like ‘my abuser goes to the same class, what do I do?’ and “my teaching assistant is abusing me.’” In the era before Facebook and Twitter, the group got the word out about their hotline by placing flyers on car windshields and putting up posters at 4 am that were quickly taken down by staff. Each individual staffed the phone for four-hour shifts, 365 days a year.

The tireless Lalonde has also worked for seven years on a provincial campaign to end violence against women, training over 10,000 people while speaking in different communities some 200 days of the year. She has also, unfortunately, been the focus of repeated internet trolling and harassment, including death threats, many of which amplified after she spoke to cadets at the Royal Military College on recognizing and ending such violence. For a number of years afterward, she could not speak publicly without a police presence, which she said was supremely ironic given the national “awakening” then unfolding on sexual violence in light of allegations brought forward by a group of women against former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi.

Lalonde has also played a key role in working to improve safety for riders of OC Transpo while also shepherding a group called Hollaback Ottawa, which challenges street-level catcalls and harassment. A lot of people have yet to come to the terms with the fact that, she says, “social media is the new sidewalk,” a place where women are still not free to exist in a violence-free space.

While she garnered a national profile as a leading fighter against such violence, Lalonde says she was dealing with her own personal nightmare, being “brutally stalked” by a former boyfriend for over a decade. “I would be on the news talking about these issues, but I couldn’t talk about what was going on in my own life because it just wasn’t safe,” she says. The man who stalked her died in a car accident, but the damage he did – including Lalonde’s post-traumatic stress – remains, as documented in a new video she created with Montreal artist Ambivalently Yours, Outside of the Shadows (

“I broke my silence and took the social justice movement to task for ignoring criminal harassment. We talk about sexual violence. We talk about intimate partner violence. Why don’t we talk about stalking? I was tired of waiting for people to do it. I was tired of screaming into the void.”

Reflecting on the #MeToo movement, Lalonde says “If we’re waiting for survivors to just come forward, it won’t happen. We need to create the conditions for it to be safe enough to come forward. You have the right to decide if and when you tell your story.” She also rejects the Hollywood notion that simply telling one’s story of abuse will result in healing.

“There’s no guarantees, so as a counselor, I have often asked, ‘What does healing look like to you?’ The answer does not always come easily or clearly because most people do not know what options exist outside of calling the police or going to the hospital.”

Lalonde views the Burning Passions Theatre play, Every Friday, as an opportunity to continue spreading the word not only about the issue, but also the resources that, limited though they may be, are available in Lanark County.

Every Friday plays in Perth on Tuesday April 17 at 5pm at YAK (1 Sherbrooke Street East), at the Mississippi Mills Youth Centre (134 Main Street East) on Thursday April 19 at 5pm, at Lanark Community Youth Centre (61 Princess Street) on Friday April 20 at 6pm, and at the Smiths Falls Community Centre (71 Cornelia Street) on Friday April 27 at 4:30pm. Admission is by donation, with no one turned away for lack of funds.

For more information on the project or to arrange a school booking, contact burning[at] or call (613) 264-8088.

#ME TOO PLAY: Tours Lanark County in April

The #Metoo and #TimesUp movements receive a local interpretation with the new play, Every Friday, touring Lanark County in April, starring (clockwise from top left) Ryan Kreissler, Winston Mavraganis, Ruby Davidson, Mary Cowan, Lu Williams and Felix Evangelho. Locations and times at

The global #Metoo and #TimesUp movements receive a local interpretation in April as Burning Passions Theatre presents a new play, Every Friday, that will tour local youth centres and schools in Lanark Highlands, Perth, Smiths Falls, Carleton Place, and Almonte.

The play, written and directed by Laurel Smith, based on stories created by Mary Cowan, Ruby Davidson, Felix Evangelho, Ryan Kreissler, Winston Mavraganis, and Lu Williams, is an exploration of the experiences of a group of youth who come together to share their stories of survival in a violent world. Given the mature subject matter, it is recommended for ages 14+.

“For lots of reasons, many people still have trouble understanding concepts like trust and consent, which are at the heart of so many ##Metoo stories. We want to show how these issues play out in real situations,” explains Smith, who notes that the play, Every Friday, is the fourth installment of the annual Listen Up! touring theatre project that addresses issues affecting rural teenagers. “To hear terms like assault, abuse and harassment without their full context can be alienating. By presenting characters who share their own journeys of survival, we hope to reconnect audiences to the very real emotions and effects of these terms.”

Each performance will be followed by a talkback session in which audience members can dialogue with the actors and playwright.

“This play is very important to me because it’s a huge problem, and is becoming even more relevant today as social media and people in power are portraying victims as liars,” says Grade 12 student Mary Cowan. “I believe everyone has a right to be believed. This play also gives the message to adults and teenagers alike that there is help, but it is also okay to not be okay.”

For Ryan Kreissler, who has acted in previous Listen Up! projects, Every Friday is “a great opportunity to learn about topics that aren’t often discussed anywhere else. The plays we create are always informative, and they’re great for spreading awareness of an issue and explaining how to get help.”

Grade 11 student Ruby Davidson agrees, noting “it is my goal for our shows to help in the community and spread awareness for the important issues that are not talked about enough in Lanark County.”

“This is a great opportunity to spread a positive message,” says PDCI student Winston Mavraganis. “Access to a platform where people’s voices can be heard is a luxury not everyone is afforded.”

As part of the play’s creation, group members will be meeting with renowned Governor-General’s Award-winning anti-violence consultant Julie Lalonde, a frequent media source on issues of violence against women whose work has appeared on Al Jazeera, CBC’s The National, TVO’s The Agenda, Vice, WIRED magazine and FLARE, among others.

Every Friday plays in Perth on Tuesday April 17 at 5pm at YAK (1 Sherbrooke Street East); at the Mississippi Mills Youth Centre (134 Main Street East) on Thursday April 19 at 5pm; at Lanark Community Youth Centre (61 Princess Street) on Friday April 20 at 6pm; and at the Smiths Falls Community Centre (71 Cornelia Street) on Friday April 27 at 4:30pm. Admission is by donation, with no one turned away for lack of funds.

For more information on the project or to arrange a school booking, contact or call (613) 264-8088.

CTF 2018: Hiring Performers for Walking Plays, Dinner Theatre

While previous seasons of the Classic Theatre’s Walking plays have focused on stories from the time of the town’s founding through Confederation (such as this scene featuring Sean Jacklin, Meaghan Brackenbury and Jasmine Bowen), the 2018 shows are set during the Second World War. The Festival is inviting applications from young performers interested in acting for this summer’s shows, with a deadline to submit resumes of March 15. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

As part of the annual theatrical historic walking plays that enliven the streets of Perth each summer, the Classic Theatre Festival is looking to hire a group of young people with an interest in acting, singing, and dancing for its brand new 2018 street-level shows. Resumes will be accepted until March 15, 2018 at

While no prior experience is necessary, the Festival’s youth theatre training program hires and provides full-time paid work for students aged 15 to 29 during the summer months. Performers will also take part in the company’s inaugural Classic Dinner Theatre experience, which will take place Tuesdays from June 5 to August 28 at Michael’s Table, 110 Gore Street East in Perth.

“It has been great to provide paid summer employment and co-op placements for young people who are interested in the arts,” explains Classic Theatre Festival Artistic Producer Laurel Smith. “Not only do they get training with professional theatre artists, they also help draw thousands of tourists to town who learn about Perth’s history in an entertaining fashion, and who also shop in local stores, eat locally, and stay overnight too, which is great for the economy.”

While past walking plays have largely dealt with early Perth history – last year’s Perth through the Ages and the Lonely Ghosts Walk dealt with the town at Confederation – this year’s shows will feature more recent stories set during the Second World War.

“The morning show will look at how local residents dealt with wartime tensions on the home front, including fears about escaped spies from the nearby prisoner-of-war camps in Kingston and Petawawa,” explains Smith, who will be writing the script. “It’s also an opportunity to remember that even though the war was pitched as a battle between democracy and fascism, the civil liberties of thousands of Canadian citizens were eliminated, including the jailing of hundreds of labour organizers without charge, as well as the internment of thousands of people of Japanese, Italian, or German heritage.”

This year’s Perth through the Ages play (running Wednesday to Sunday morning at 11am beginning at Matheson House Museum on Gore Street) will bring back memories of Big Band swing music and popular dances of the day.

Also on tap will be the annual Lonely Ghosts Walk (running Thursday and Friday evenings at 7pm), which will feature the spirits of British war brides who often faced their own challenges once they arrived in this country. Both walking plays are family-friendly.

Students who sign on to the summer program will also be appearing in the Classic Dinner Theatre production of George Bernard Shaw’s connubial comedy Overruled, about two married couples facing a rather unconventional challenge. Smith, who worked at the Shaw Festival before founding the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth, is excited about bringing this hilarious take on married life to a brand new setting at Michael’s Table.

The show will run from 5 to 7 pm and feature a three-course meal at the popular Perth dining spot. “When Michael’s Table was recently renovated, they created a perfect, intimate spot for dinner theatre” says Smith. “Reaction so far has been very enthusiastic. People should book early because seating will be limited.”

Anyone interested in applying for the Festival positions should submit a resume to no later than March 15, with interviews scheduled the third week in March. Those interested in purchasing discounted Early Bird tickets to the walking plays and the Classic Dinner Theatre, as well as for the Festival’s mainstage season, can visit or call 1-877-283-1283.


LISTEN UP! 2018: Sexual Assault, Healthy Relationships Focus of New Youth Play

Connor Williamson and Felix Evangelho appeared in a touring show about youth homelessness in 2017, The Invisible Boy, as part of the annual Listen Up! theatre project. A new show on healthy relationships and sexual violence is seeking applications from interested teenagers.

Now entering its 4th season, the Burning Passions Theatre’s Listen Up! youth project will be touring Lanark County later this spring with a new play whose message is perfectly in tune with the #MeToo and #TimesUp phenomena. The company is currently seeking applications from teenagers who would like to be part of the play, as well as schools that would like to have the troupe perform for their students.

“Before #MeToo even sprang up in its current form, we were planning to do a play about what constitutes healthy relationships,” explains Laurel Smith, the Artistic Producer of the company, which also runs the summertime Classic Theatre Festival.

“Unfortunately, it should come as no surprise that we are seeing all this, given the amount of sexual violence directed against women and children around the globe, which the World Health Organization has deemed a planetary epidemic,” Smith says. “We look forward to working with teenagers as we develop a script built around their own perspectives on the issue, whether that’s dealing with workplace harassment, mistreatment in school hallways, or inter-generational violence, which is far more common that most people would like to admit. This isn’t just a problem for teenagers.”

Since 2015, Listen Up! has created plays that speak not only to teenagers but adults as well, spurring dialogue on how best to bridge the generational gap on a range of issues from anxiety,  depression and teen suicide to gender fluidity and youth homelessness. Each performance is followed by a facilitated talkback in which the performers discuss issues with audience members, addressing not only the roots of the problems, but focusing on solutions as well.

Burning Passions Theatre has toured its shows in schools, youth centres, and at a national conference in Ottawa.  Each year, the company has seen positive results inspired by their shows, from improved self-esteem of participants to change sin the community. For example, its show on teen suicide, Jessie’s Song, inspired the YAK Youth Centre to offer a two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Training (ASIST) course for the public. Each of the staff and placement students at YAK are now certified in ASIST as well as Mental Health First Aid.

Similarly, last year’s show, The Invisible Boy, helped raise awareness of youth homelessness in a rural context, and was accompanied by a United Way representative sharing resources for young people at risk of finding themselves with no roof over their heads.

“The fact that the youth were so involved in creating the storyline and in fact the very essence of the play added to the overall impact,” said Lanark County United Way regional director Fraser Scantlebury. “At each performance, I marveled at the attentiveness of the audience. The actors’ passion was not only evident in their portrayal of the story, but in the very revealing discussion sessions with audiences after the performances.”

Anyone interested in being part of this year’s play, which begins development and rehearsal in February and will tour towards the end of April – can send email to or call (613) 264-8088.

SAVE-A-SEAT PROGRAM: Continues to Grow

The Classic Theatre Festival’s Artistic Producer, Laurel Smith, looks back fondly on her company’s 8th successful season while praising the role of the Save-a-Seat program in opening up over 2,000 free seats to low-income and socially marginalized community members since 2010. Individuals wishing to support the program receive charitable tax receipts. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

Since the Classic Theatre Festival opened its doors in Perth in 2010, staging award-winning productions of hits from the golden age of Broadway and the London Stage, over 2,000 people have enjoyed shows courtesy of the Save-a-Seat program, which provides free tickets to low-income and socially marginalized community members who would otherwise never be able to attend.

“It’s a program that we’re particularly proud of, because live theatre with some of Canada’s top professional performers should be accessible to everyone regardless of income,” says Classic Theatre Festival Artistic Producer Laurel Smith. “Save-a-Seat recipients can come to the theatre in dignity because their tickets look just like everyone else’s, so they never feel any social stigma.”

The popular program is supported by individual charitable donations, often provided by audience members, as well as the sale of used books in the Festival’s lobby, and a 50-50 raffle. Tickets are made available through partnerships with a variety of social service agencies across Lanark County and other parts of Eastern Ontario.

“Often when people purchase tickets, they buy an extra one for Save-a-Seat, or they add Save-a-Seat to their list of year-end charitable donations since we can provide a tax receipt,” says Smith.

The Festival’s Save-a-Seat program is fully in sync with the findings of a Community Foundations of Canada study from last April that found the arts remain an important cohesive force in communities, promoting social inclusion and a sense of belonging while enhancing the quality of life.

We’ve seen individuals get so excited at the theatre, often a first-time experience for them, that they contact us to volunteer, which is one way of helping people re-connect to the community,” Smith says. “Some of them receive job skills and training, and others have received employment with the Festival as well.”

As Smith reflects back on the 2017 season – which received a record five nominations for artistic excellence at the Capital Critics Circle Awards – she points to numerous studies that highlight the socially beneficial outcomes of arts in the community. When the Perth & District Foundation released its landmark Lanark County Vital Signs 2017 report, it took special note of the region’s creative economy, pointing out that arts, entertainment and recreation make up six percent of the labour force and the fastest growing segment of the employment sector, growing by 41 per cent since 2012.

“We are a major employer for young people during the summer, often providing a first-time job and an excellent reference on a resume,” says Smith, who also points to a provincial economic analysis of the Classic Theatre Festival that found theatre-related tourism pumped over $1 million into the Perth economy last summer.

What we are seeing is that partnering with the Festival is a great way to increase traffic in your business, from restaurants and accommodations to downtown shopping,” Smith says, adding that in 2018, a number of new special packages will allow tourists (who make up 81% of Festival audiences) as well as local residents even more opportunities to enjoy discounted entertainment experiences.

The Festival’s parent company, Burning Passions Theatre, is also planning its 4th season of a youth theatre training program called Listen Up!, which allows at-risk teenagers an opportunity to come together in a safe place, discuss issues of importance in their lives, and create and tour a play based on those topics. Last year’s show, The Invisible Boy, focused on youth homelessness, while the previous season’s Jessie’s Song explored the impacts of teen suicide on a community. The 2018 production, planned in advance of the #MeToo phenomenon, will be a helpful complement to that social movement, focusing on sexual harassment and violence against women and children.

The Festival is continuing its hugely popular holiday sale through December 31 (individuals can save as much as 25% off when they order by year’s end, and pick their dates anytime in 2018). Those wishing to take advantage of the flexible savings plan can order online at or call 1-877-283-1283.

Those looking for a charitable tax receipt to round out 2017 can donate to the Save-a-Seat program through Canada Helps or by mailing cheques to the Classic Theatre Festival at PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0.