Visitors and townfolk alike may be forgiven for thinking they have walked into a time warp starting June 25 as costumed characters from Perth’s past come to life five mornings a week this summer. “Perth through the Ages”, a historic, theatrical guided walking tour, is a youth training project organized by the Classic Theatre Festival and Matheson House Museum, running through August 31, Wednesday to Sunday mornings at 11 am.
This project features an original play, “The Preacher and the Leading Lady,” which was researched and developed by the troupe in tandem with director Laurel Smith and local historian Susan Code. It tells the story of the Reverend William Bell, an early Perth Presbyterian minister, and famed actress May Bell-Marks, both of whom mysteriously find themselves in 2014 Perth. As they journey through the town, they witness key events and characters that have formed part of the town’s storied 200 years while often sparring about their respective views on everything from the state of women’s attire to smoke-belching horsecarts (or cars, as we know them today).
Bell, played by local actor Sean Jacklin, and Bell-Marks, performed by Ottawa’s Jasmine Bowen (a veteran of that city’s Haunted Walk), are perfect foils whose comments on what they have seen historically and now will allow audiences to appreciate the importance of signature events in Perth history. With an equal mix of drama, history, and humour, the play’s cast also includes some additional up and coming talents that Perthites have likely seen on both high school and community stages, including Bobbie Cordick, Meaghan Brackenbury, Adam Reid and Madison Reid.
The tour route will begin at Matheson House Museum (11 Gore Street East) at 11 am sharp beginning June 25, and will follow down the streets of Perth to the Courier building (where viewers will watch the moment when women’s suffrage was won in Canada), as well as a stretch along the Tay River where there is a confrontation over the Tay Canal Scandal (a key moment in which funds designated for canal construction were pocketed by wealthy investors). Other scenes near the Crystal Palace will allow historic characters to remark upon the remarkable changes they have witnessed, and scenes both at the Legion and along Beckwith Street East will be touching reminders of the human cost of both world wars. Elizabeth Hughes, the Perth woman over whom the last fatal duel in Canada was fought, makes an appearance. The tour finishes at St. James Anglican Church, site of many historic events and the new home for the Classic Theatre Festival.
The “Perth through the Ages” project is the product of an intensive period of research facilitated by local historic animator Susan Code and collective creation and writing led by Laurel Smith, the Classic Theatre Festival’s Artistic Producer. Troupe members also had the privilege of interviewing residents of the Lanark Lodge long term care home to gain insights into the Perth of days past.
“We have a terrific group of young people working with us on the project, and this is a chance for them to stretch their talents, learn new things, and share great stories with tourists and locals alike, a lot of whom marvel at the historic architecture of Perth but don’t always know the stories behind the gorgeous facades,” Smith says. “This is a great opportunity to not only share memorable stories, but also give everyone a strong sense of place and pride in our community as it approaches its bicentennial.”
Smith points to the strong partnership with Matheson House Museum, Perth Tourism, and the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization, and credits the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Program, and the Perth & District Community Foundation with significant support as well.
The tour will wind up at St. James Anglican Church, whose Good Shepherd Hall is being transformed into a professional theatre space this summer as the Festival celebrates its 5th anniversary with the Neil Simon comedy “Come Blow Your Horn” (July 11-August 3) and the gripping mystery thriller “Dial M for Murder” by Frederick Knott (August 8-31).
Visitors to the new space will note the historic overtones inside the building as well, which will features posters, costumes designs, and other artifacts from Canadian theatre history in the hallways and theatre lobby. This summer, the Festival is also adding a Thursday matinee. With 8 shows a week (Wed. to Sat. at 8 pm, with 2 pm matinees every Wed., Thurs., Sat. & Sun.), the Festival offers audiences lots of flexibility in choosing their dates. Pre-show talks will occur at 1:30 pm preceding each matinee.
Meanwhile tickets for the “Perth through the Ages” walking tour will be limited, so those wishing to attend are encouraged to book tickets in advance by calling Tickets Please at 613-485-6434. Tickets are $12, $10 for Festival ticketholders, and free for children aged 12 and under. Day-of tickets will be available at the Perth Tourism Visitor Centre (11 Gore Street East). The tour will be last about one hour and 15 minutes.
Further information on the walking tour and the Festival’s new season is available at www.classictheatre.ca or by calling 1-877-283-1283.