Curtain Falls on Classic Theatre Festival, But Burning Passions Will Go On

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” – Arundhati Roy

After a decade as one of Lanark County’s marquee summertime entertainment experiences, the Classic Theatre Festival has been forced to suspend opreations due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

The only professional company in the Ottawa Valley, which annually brought to town top talent from the world of Canadian theatre, television and film to perform hits from the golden age of Broadway and the London stage, the Classic Theatre Festival was a tourism draw that pumped more than $12 million into the local economy.

“Due to the ongoing pandemic that forced the Classic Theatre Festival to postpone our 2020 season, and the uncertainty that extends well into 2021 and beyond, the company cannot sustain this large-scale event during the pandemic,” said Artistic Producer Laurel Smith. “A Festival of our size cannot operate in this new high-risk environment, where the long-term planning timelines that are critical to our viability are not currently feasible.”

The decision to suspend the Festival was a “devastating” one, Smith says, and came during “the saddest board meeting we have ever attended.  Our board was so invested in this project, working as volunteers in Front of House management, as ushers, as cheerleaders for what was a really unique experience.”

The Classic Theatre Festival left a huge cultural footprint in the town of Perth and beyond. Its anchor was its critically acclaimed, award-winning productions on the mainstage (for the last six years at the St. James Anglican auditorium, which was transformed annually into a professional theatre space). But there were many other moving parts to the company that draw tens of thousands of tourists to town, from historic Perth through the Ages walking plays that animated downtown streets in and around Matheson House as well as night-time “Lonely Ghosts walks,” to the sold-out dinner theatre shows in collaboration with Michael’s Table.

The Festival was also lauded as a model of community engagement, from its ability to hire and train dozens of young people each summer (teaching new skills while also funding post-secondary education!) to its legendary Save-A-Seat program, which opened up thousands of free seats to low-income and socially marginalized community members across Eastern Ontario to attend professional theatre in dignity. In addition, hundreds of volunteers helped usher, paint sets, and host out of town performers and technicians, building deep and lasting friendships that will outlast this gloomy period.

“A key part of our success was also based on the partnerships we built with Perth and area restaurants, accommodations, and stores, enabling all of us together to offer visitors to town a full range of experiences,” said Smith, who in addition to helming the Festival, played a leading role in promoting tourism to Perth through her work with the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Association as well as local and regional organizations.

While this is indeed sad news, Smith takes hope in the words of  author Arundhati Roy, whose widely-read essay on the Covid crisis points out that, despite the losses and challenges, the pandemic is a portal to new possibilities.

The new possibilities are to be found in the Festival’s parent company, Burning Passions Theatre (BPT), which has a quarter-century history of theatrical practice under its belt. Before the Festival was founded in Perth in 2009, BPT was a highly active company working both in Toronto and around the province on a variety of projects engaging professional artists, community groups, and schools. When the company was launched in 1998 in Toronto, words of praise were received from the likes of Margaret Atwood and then-NDP leader Audrey McLaughlin. The company developed and staged new works (a tradition which continued over the past five years with both the Listen Up! Youth theatre project in Lanark County and the Festival’s walking plays), provided opportunities to produce classics like the acclaimed “Shaw in the City” series, and served as a platform for mentoring and training new generations of theatre artists. 

“Until we can return safely to the live stage, our plan is to work virtually with theatre artists across Eastern Ontario,” says Smith. “We have begun planning for a new play development program, reflecting voices and stories that are often untold or under-represented. We will also be developing a new training/mentorship program for Eastern Ontario theatre artists to hone their skills across the full breadth of theatrical production (playwrighting, acting, design, production). At the same time, we will be exploring new opportunities to return to live audience performance once it is safe to do so.”

While Festival audiences will miss the annual trek to Perth, Smith is confident that the show will go on, but in different forms and in new stories, in the years to come.

“It’s been quite the journey, and while words cannot express the depth of our sadness, we also know that tears can nurture the seeds of new growth and new beginnings, and we plan to be ready for those possibilities when we can all fully emerge from this difficult, challenging time,” she concludes.

Those interested in following the work of Burning Passions Theatre can visit:

The Things I Miss the Most at the Theatre: A Pandemic Reflection

By Matthew Behrens, Associate Producer, Classic Theatre Festival
July 4, 2020

It’s the first Saturday of July, and, as a creature of habit, I bolt out of bed, my mind ticking off an extensive checklist. It’s a three-show day in Perth, Ontario, so there’s lots to do.

A rapid succession of questions speeds around my mind like particles in a semiconductor. I need to open the database and check the final audience numbers. Are any free seats available for latecomers? Is the concessions stand fully stocked? Do we have enough of the ever-popular ice cream sandwiches? Which summer student working front-of-house will be in the parking lot to welcome the senior bringing three boxloads of summer reading for our massive book sale?

More questions. What does the weather radar show, as we have a full complement attending our outdoor historic walking play at 11 am? How are the numbers for Tuesday’s dinner theatre show? Is that group from Casselman on time to arrive at Michael’s Table for lunch? Are all the props needed for rehearsal lined up and ready to go? How early can I call the person who left her sweater in Row C at yesterday’s matinee? Call back Perth Manor to let them know we were able to find a seat for their guests at the Sunday matinee. Will I remember to bring a visiting actor that extra pillow they had requested?

I sit by the phone (before 10 am, the box office number goes to our home to catch the early bird inquiries, and they often start coming in at 7:30 am!), as I anticipate waving to my partner, Artistic Producer and Director Laurel Smith, heading out for rehearsal for our second mainstage production. During such busy times, we are like ships passing in the night.

But today, as I sit in front of the computer, stare at a silent phone, and wonder why I haven’t seen Laurel leave yet, a bolt of reality shuts down the superconductivity pinging in my brain. Right. Yes. It’s 2020. There’s a pandemic on, and live theatre with full houses is not taking place anywhere on the planet for the first time in centuries. Centuries. Think about that. While storytelling has been around since the beginning of our species, that unique quality of sharing tales in a certain physical space with other human beings is, during this time, too dangerous to risk undertaking.

Like theatre companies around the globe, ours is going through a truly existential crisis amidst a larger context, where billions are suffering the fear and pain of something that could strike out of the blue, scientists are racing to find a Covid-19 vaccine, and animated discussions conclude that our collectively destructive way of life will continue to produce such crises unless we seriously change our ways. For those of us who work in the live arts, we face critical questions about how – and if – we can ever get back to gathering in enclosed, packed spaces to laugh, cry, and sing together as we enjoy the inspiration coming from the stage.

As the summer of 2020 has progressed, my mind, my spirit, and my body – muscle memory being what it is – have been going through a series of reminders that I need to be at a certain place doing a certain thing, only to recall that it’s simply not happening this summer, in which was to be our 11th summer season. It might not happen next summer. Amidst the uncertainty, I think about what I miss.

For ten years, the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth has produced a large community family, and hundreds of thousands of memories: the individual experiences and insights of audience members; the shared camaraderie of often perfect strangers who come together for an intense six weeks of rehearsal and performance and leave as lifelong friends; working closely with wonderful designers and production managers who create the stunning layout of the theatre itself and the look, feel and sound of each play; working with the awesome Ann Hawthorne of Tickets Please, our box office service; the growth of young people in our theatre training program who each year have learned the art of theatre by appearing in our historic walking plays (thoughtful and entertaining one-hour journeys uncovering the often less-than-savoury aspects of Perth’s colonial past that also reflect on our current challenges); the stories of billet hosts who open up their homes and generously welcome out-of-town performers, technicians, and stage managers; the first job for shy teenagers who by summer’s end have grown in self-esteem as they are assigned increasingly responsible roles; our partnerships with Associations for Community Living to provide job training and volunteer experience; the wonderful cross-generational dialogues that arise from bringing together teenagers and seniors in our front of house staff; the chats with staff at St. James Anglican Church, which annually hosts our festival in an auditorium that we transform into a professional theatre space.

As I think about all these things, I once again affirm to myself that, while it has been a lot of hard work, it also has been richly rewarding. Every year since 2010, the Classic Theatre Festival has presented unique experiences that have been founded on the power of timeless plays with wide appeal that leave audiences discussing the characters, themes, backstories, and presentation all the way home (and often up until they come to see our next show!). It feels like an extended family, as those first guests enter the theatre each June to say they are here for another year. They have recognized the young people who are working there for a second or third year. They have read the detailed wall displays that document the social, political, and economic context of each show on the stage. They have heard the music of the play’s era as they enter the theatre space, which is surrounded on two sides by a massive loonie and toonie book sale, proceeds of which have gone to the Save-a-Seat program, which annually has opened up hundreds of free seats to low-income and socially marginalized community members who can attend in dignity. For many, it has been the first experience of professional theatre. Some have gone on to not only volunteer with us, but also receive job training and employment or job references.

Were this a pandemic-free summer, theatre guests arriving would be greeting us around 1:15 pm today at the front door, sharing their memories of the previous summer, maybe dropping off an antique prop or period costume they’d like to donate for a future production, and reflecting on the morning Perth through the Ages walking play that some have attended.

Last year’s walking play, written by Laurel and directed by Joanna McAuley Treffers, focused on how Perth survived the Great Depression, with focus on the cruelties of the poor house (a historic building that is now a seniors’ facility) and the mass common grave where hundreds were buried. Previous years’ shows (all penned by Laurel Smith) had focused on racism and internment during World War 2, the plight of veterans returning home with an affliction that had yet to be called PTSD, and colonial settler/Indigenous relations at the time of the town’s founding on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin territories. All inspired post-show discussions on how the plays’ themes were reflected in contemporary realities.

The same youth troupe that did the morning walking plays five days a week also did a twice-a-week nightly Lonely Ghosts Walk (again, written by Laurel and directed by Joanna) that also brought to life the stories behind Perth’s fabled architectural facades, from the secret trial of a soldier to violence against women and the often less than warm welcome faced by many war brides.

Meanwhile, it is getting close to the half hour. The theatre is filling up. As many enter the theatre, those who have found a unique collection of Virginia Woolf letters or a series of books on aviation history can be seen racing back to their cars to drop off their special book sale finds before returning in time for the pre-show talk, which explores the background of the playwright and sets the story in its historic time. It’s an opportunity to fill in the blanks for people who may not understand some of the historical references in the play they are about to see, and also to draw parallels with similarly modern equivalents.

At five minutes before the show begins, the last of the ticketholders take their seats, and the energy is palpable. There is nothing like the feeling of an audience in anticipation of what they expect to be a delightful afternoon or evening. Once the house is in, the actors are shepherded down the long church hallway that leads from their dressing rooms in an area of the church known as the Crypt and into the backstage area. It is always an interesting “perp walk” in which characters from a distinct era (from the 1890s to the 1970s) strolls down the hallway, doing some last second vocal exercises, stretching, and joking before they hit the stage. And then the proverbial lights go low and the show is underway.

For the rest of the afternoon, there is a sharing between those on stage and in the audience, a symbiotic relationship that builds beautifully when everything is clicking. There is no other experience I can think of quite like it. Perhaps the most visceral representation of that connection at the Classic Theatre Festival was our 2018 production of Angel Street (aka Gaslight), an intensely frank 1930s exploration of psychological violence against women that builds to an explosive climax. Standing in the theatre lobby area, I could always feel audience members leaning forward, pulling for the heroine yet gripping their seats, unsure if she would survive the onslaught ahead of her. Listening to the audience respond (gasping at certain moments, calling out the abuser on stage, shaming certain awful things he was saying) was akin to the call-and-response of a southern Baptist church. The play does not reveal the final outcome until the last possible moment, and when it does, the audience would explode in relief and cheers. The curtain calls for that show were cathartic.

At the show’s end, I would head to the front door to perform one of the favourite parts of my job: thanking people for coming, engaging in discussion about how they found the show, recommending a place to eat. Many stay around hoping to meet and thank the performers. Sometimes the actors board the soon-to-depart buses of seniors’ homes and speak with their residents before they head back to Ottawa or Kingston.

As 5 pm rolls around, actors and technical staff would head off for their dinner break before starting it all over again for an evening show. Restaurants would be filling up with theatre guests and local accommodations would be welcoming new guests who had come to town to see one of our shows. That is another part of the summer I am missing: the wonderful feedback from our tourism partners who benefit from our bringing to town thousands of visitors. The Festival has been an excellent example of how theatre can be a major economic generator for a rural community (research reveals our audiences annually pump $1.5 million into the economy of a town of 6,000).

In a world where community is often so hard to find, the Festival has created a space every summer where emotionally connected experiences have been created, making us feel a bit less lonely in a world that can be cruel and merciless. During this summer of physical distancing, Laurel and I are missing that profoundly. So are our audience members, who have sent us lovely notes about how much they both miss seeing us this year, but also how they have loads of memories to lean back on when they too wonder why they aren’t making their three summertime trips to Perth this summer.

Like everyone else, we are keeping our eyes on the headlines for signs of progress. We also stay in touch with our professional theatre associations as we work through the heart-wrenching discussions we as an industry must undertake. Given that most of us survive on shoestring budgets to begin with in a country where government and corporate arts funding is notoriously parsimonious, box office receipts determine whether we sink or swim. But for modest houses like ours (110 seats), the future necessity for physical distancing (and subsequently reduced audience sizes) could spell the difference between survival and disappearance.

As storytellers, we trust that we will find a way to continue doing what we love best. For many of us, though, the economic model may not look like it did in the past. We honestly don’t know what it will like in the future.

On World Theatre Day in March 2020, our board of directors met and came to the difficult decision that there was no way we could proceed with our 2020 season. It was the responsible thing to do. We gather again in September to figure out our next steps. Even then, we may not know what the future holds, which means the Festival might again have to stay on hold. In the meantime, we are grateful for the blessings of those wonderful moments of time we have been able to share with so many during the past decade in Perth. No pandemic can ever take those away, for they lives in our hearts, our spirits, and in imaginations that we trust will be up to the task of the many challenges of this moment and what lies beyond it.

A Difficult Decision: Postponing our Summer Season Until 2021

Dear Friends of the Classic Theatre Festival,

It is with a sense of sad irony that our board of directors met via Skype on World Theatre Day – March 27 – and decided that, given the COVID-19 pandemic, we were left with no option but to postpone the 2020 season of the Classic Theatre Festival.

While this is heartbreaking for all of us – the producers, directors, stage managers, designers, performers, technicians, summer students, volunteers, the billet hosts, and, of course, you, our wonderful guests – we believe that this is the safest decision, in light of the uncertainty of the current situation.

As we stay home for the foreseeable future – and encourage you to do the same – we will cherish the wonderful memories of our first decade together in Perth. What began as our dream of running a summer theatre became a reality thanks to your loyal support and enthusiastic attendance. We are honoured to have you as part of the Classic Theatre Festival family.

What this means going forward
Since we have already invested significant resources into our 2020 shows – for casting, design, production, royalties – and also because we treasure the shows we had planned (Affairs of State, The Philanderer, and Sleuth), we have decided that the shows for 2020 will simply be moved ahead to the summer of 2021. By that time, we hope that the current crisis is a distant bad memory, yet one from which we have all learned important lessons about the need to care for one another on this fragile planet.

If you already hold tickets for the 2020 season, here are your current options:

1. Transfer your tickets forward: we will honour any tickets purchased for 2020 in 2021. The same three shows planned for this summer – Affairs of State, The Philanderer, and Sleuth – will hit the boards in 2021. As always, we are flexible in allowing you to pick your dates and seats whenever you like. This option would be hugely helpful to us as we handle the cash flow challenges of operating without a full season.

2. Alternatively, if you don’t want to transfer your tickets – and you are able to do so – you can donate all or part of your 2020 season ticket purchase in return for a charitable tax receipt. This would greatly help us to offset some of the fixed costs we face whether the Festival is running or not.

3. You can receive a refund for your 2020 tickets. (Please note that the refund cannot include the $4 + HST ticketing fee that supports our box office outlet, Tickets Please).

Simply email us at and copy and tell us how you would like to proceed, and we will handle things from our end.

We recognize the unprecedented nature of the crisis we are facing, and hope that the promise of once again sharing the magic of live theatre and the wonderful stories that shape our lives is one piece of what you need to get through these challenging times.

We look forward to seeing you in 2021. Until then, take care of yourselves, and please let us know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

Laurel Smith, Artistic Producer

Matthew Behrens, Associate Producer

We so look forward to seeing you again in 2021, and thank you again for your support!

A Note from your friends at CTF regarding COVID 19:

The Classic Theatre Festival, like other arts organizations, is staying very much in touch with the latest updates from public health authorities regarding COVID-19. The safety of our staff, our volunteers, and audience members is always paramount. The Festival itself is not scheduled to open until three and a half months from now. Until then, we sincerely hope that all the major efforts being undertaken to contain and stop the spread of the virus prove successful. We also encourage everyone to look out for one another, especially those who are most vulnerable at this critical time. Feel free to contact us at any time if you have any concerns regarding our summer season.

Best regards,

Laurel Smith, Artistic Producer

Matthew Behrens, Associate Producer

VOLUNTEERING: Good for the community; even better for you

By Diane Burke

Diane Burke is an avid and hard-working volunteer for the Classic Theatre Festival, and a valued board director for our parent company, Burning Passions Theatre.

Chances are, if you are reading an article with the word ‘volunteering’ in the title, you have been considering the idea. Perhaps paid employment is providing a cheque to meet your financial needs but lacks a higher purpose. Perhaps your children are now needing less of your time which leaves you with an opportunity to rediscover yourself by exploring new interests. Or, perhaps you are retired and finding yourself isolated and missing the socialization that comes with being a member of a team. Chances are, if you are reading this article, you are feeling a desire to try something new, or to become more engaged in the larger world, or to make a difference in your community. You are searching for greater meaning in your life.

Once the basics of life are satisfied―the bills are paid, there is food on the table, the children are cared for―many experience a need for personal growth and fulfillment that the work that supports their daily lives cannot always fulfill. There is growing evidence and awareness of the existence of this intrinsic human need and the benefits that accrue when that need is met.

“Volunteering can satisfy that deep-seated need to make a difference.”

The research of psychologist Frederick Herzberg reveals that work that allows one to experience a sense of recognition and that allows for personal growth is a more significant motivational factor than additional money. This type of research is the basis of the subject matter of Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink explores the “deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”

Sociologist, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, expresses the same idea in her book, The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50. She describes an individual’s need to “move from an experience of working that is competitive, individualistic, that’s achievement oriented, that’s about status, going up the ladder of success to the kind of work—a very different kind of work—that’s collaborative, generative, that’s about giving forward to society.”

“Volunteering has proven physical and mental health benefits.”

We all have an intrinsic need to enrich our lives by performing work that is meaningful and purposeful and volunteer work can be the means to satisfy this human need. Volunteering can also contribute to your physical and mental well-being.

Studies demonstrate that volunteering leads to greater physical and psychological benefits and to longer and healthier lives. A study on the health benefits of volunteering to adults age 65 and older found that “the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment that an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities,” (Herzog et al., 1998). While much of the research reveals the beneficial effects of volunteering on retired persons, younger people also stand to benefit in that they experience less health-related issues later in life. A study of a group of women who had volunteered on an intermittent basis from the time that they married until the age of 55 “scored higher on functional ability…than those who had not,” (Moen et al., 1992). This positive outcome persisted regardless of social and economic status, previous illness, age, and gender.

“Discover a unique volunteering experience at Classic Theatre Festival.”

The takeaway from this research is that work that you find most personally satisfying and that gives back to society can contribute to a longer and healthier life and may ultimately be one of the best ways to look after yourself. Fortunately, every community has countless volunteer opportunities that can be uncovered by a little research of your own.

That is how I arrived as a volunteer at the Classic Theatre Festival. Volunteering gives me another reason to get out and interact with the world. It means that I change my at-home leisure wear for something a little less informal. I apply a touch of makeup, fix my hair, and put on some pretty earrings. My presence at the theatre is needed and desired and this makes me feel good.

Volunteering with the Classic Theatre Festival allows me to indulge my love of live theatre. I get to see every production. I can engage with the actors and the many behind-the-scenes people who make these productions successful. It is an opportunity to discover another aspect of live theatre that most others do not get to experience.

I meet other volunteers of retirement age, like myself, and we compare notes on life. The theatre also has a contingent of young people of high school age. Talking with them, I get an interesting perspective of the world as they are experiencing it.

One of the theatre’s mandates is to make the theatre experience available to those who would not ordinarily attend the theatre. The Save-A-Seat program is funded through a 50-50 raffle draw and when I am working a performance you will see me volunteering to sell these tickets. The positive response to this program on the part of the theatregoers is heart-warming and I am aware that, in a small way, I am contributing to the program’s success and to the success of the theatre overall. I have been volunteering with the theatre for six years and you will see me there again this upcoming season.

By the way, in case you are wondering—yes, Classic Theatre Festival is looking for more volunteers. For further information on this opportunity, contact Matthew Behrens, Volunteer Coordinator, at (613) 264-8088, or email You can also visit our volunteer webpage:


Mallory Brumm (left) and Brooke Trealout in rehearsal for Androcles and the Lion, the show featured in this year’s Classic Dinner/Lunchtime Theatre at Michael’s Table, opening June 4.

Following its completely sold-out inaugural year, the Classic Dinner Theatre returns to Perth this summer with an additional lunchtime sitting at Michael’s Table (110 Gore Street East). Featuring Laurel Smith’s new adaptation of the Shaw comedy classic Androcles and the Lion ( a satire on life under the Roman Empire), the play, accompanied by a three-course home-cooked meal, will run June 4 to August 27, 11 am to 1 pm (show first, followed by lunch) and 5 to 7 pm (meal, then show).

Directed by Joanna McAuley-Treffers and presented by talented up-and-coming performers from Ottawa, Lanark and Renfrew Counties – Mallory Brumm, Abigaile Gagnon, Tyler Street, Brooke Trealout and Connor Williamson – the second year of the project is part of a rural youth theatre training program run by the Classic Theatre Festival.

“People had a great time at last year’s first show, and because it sold out so quickly, we have expanded the number of performances, but even with that, tickets are selling so fast that folks might want to reserve a seat now before they’re all gone,” enthuses Smith, who notes Androcles and the Lion‘s June 4 opening begins a summer-long celebration of the Festival’s 10th anniversary.

While dinner theatres sprang 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.

This year’s show features an elevated stage for improved sightlines as well as stunning backdrops that bring to life the Roman era. “There’s also quite a few comic surprises that will keep you laughing all the way home,” Smith says.

To reserve dinner/lunch theatre seats, as well as learn more about the Festival’s 10th anniversary season, contact 1-877-283-1283 or visit

CLASSIC THEATRE FESTIVAL: Announces 10th Anniversary Season

A group of war brides sits on the set with performers Krista Leis, Michael Dufays and Sara Joy Bennett following the 2010 Classic Theatre Festival production of The Voice of the Turtle, a reprise of which will be featured during the Festival’s 10th anniversary in 2019.

The Classic Theatre Festival in Perth is planning to kick off a year-long party as it marks its 10th anniversary of producing award-winning classics from the golden age of Broadway and the London Stage.

What began in 2010 with two mainstage shows playing 7 times a week has expanded to 17 shows a week, with three mainstage shows, a series of summertime heritage walking plays, and an expanded dinner theatre as well.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Festival is offering loyal audience members and newcomers alike the opportunity to save up to 25% off their 2019 season when they purchase a Season Flex Pass before December 31.

Kicking off the mainstage season in 2019 will be The Voice of The Turtle (June 21-July 14), the 9th-longest running play in Broadway history. This remarkable comedy about the passions and excitement of World War II-era New York City is a reprise from their first season, when war brides and veterans alike were part of adoring audiences. The story follows young people from across the nation converging on the Big Apple, discovering new loves, sharing their dreams, and navigating the challenges of rapidly changing moral codes. Playwright John Van Druten is also the author of Bell, Book & Candle, I Am a Camera and There’s Always Juliet (part of the Festival’s 2018 summer season).

Following is Pygmalion (July 19-August 12), George Bernard Shaw’s most popular play. When a bombastic professor of dialects tries to turn a working-class flower girl into an upper-class lady, comic sparks fly in this perfectly constructed story (the basis for the musical My Fair Lady). Full of unforgettable Shavian characters – Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle, Colonel Pickering, and Alfred Doolittle, among others – it’s a legendary satire on class, gender, and particularly British mannerisms all served up with gentle and loving humour.

The annual season-closing mystery will be Ira Levin’s Deathtrap (August 16 -Sept 8), the longest-running comedy thriller in Broadway history. It follows a formerly successful playwright who engages in a deadly game to steal what he feels would be a “killer script.” Filled with ingenious plot twists and a string of bodies, the play is by the author of Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil, and The Stepford Wives.

While a heritage walking play on how residents of rural communities came together to survive the Great Depression will play five mornings and two evenings a week, the Festival’s Classic Dinner Theatre at Michael’s Table will return with a new play, Shaw’s classic satire on the Roman Empire, Androcles and the Lion. In response to audience demand (last year’s season was completely sold out), the dinner theatre is doubling its capacity, and will run Tuesdays from 5 to 7 pm, along with a lunchtime show from 11 am to 1 pm, beginning June 4.

For discounted season passes and more, call 1-877-283-1283 or visit


DONATE TODAY: Support our Save-a-Seat Program

Every year, the Classic Theatre Festival’s Save-a-Seat program opens up hundreds of free theatre seats to low income and socially marginalized community members who might otherwise never have a chance to experience the joy of live, professional theatre. Working in partnership with a range of social service agencies, the Festival is able to provide tickets in dignity: Save-a-Seat tickets look just like everyone else’s, so confidentiality is always respected.

Because poverty can be socially isolating, the program has also been successful because ticket recipients sometimes call to volunteer with the Festival, bringing their skills and talents to a welcoming arena where they can connect, network, make new friends, and sometimes secure employment as well.

In the Festival’s first nine years, over 2,600 people have come through our doors under the program.

“The Save-a-Seat program was inspired in part by my parents,” explains Associate Producer Matthew Behrens. “Deborah Cass and Bernard ‘Bunny’ Behrens were part of that post-war generation of artists who took theatre to the people across the country after finishing the much shorter season at Stratford. They always believed live, professional theatre should be made accessible to everyone, regardless of their social or economic status.”

Tax-deductible charitable donations to the Save-a-Seat program can be made by clicking here:


THE STRANGEST DREAM: A Play on Body Image and Self-Esteem

The annual Listen Up youth theatre troupe will once again tour Lanark County and Smiths Falls youth centres and schools in April with a new play about body image, The Strangest Dream.

Based on research and conversations with young people and in consultation with the Hopewell Centre – Eastern Ontario’s only clinic dedicated to working with those dealing with eating disorders – the show is being staged at a time when teenagers especially face a barrage of images in print and electronically that make them question their self-worth and can lead to harmful behaviours.

“In addition to all the expectations we place on young people, the social pressure to conform to looking a certain way can have devastating impacts,” says Smith. “While this is certainly not a new thing – we know eating disorders have been with us for a long time – it is magnified by the 24/7 access we now have to a bombardment of visual images and voices that get into our heads and tell us to look and act and feel a certain way.”

The Listen Up! project has served as an inspiration for inter-generational dialogue over the past four years, with parents and adult community members taking part in post-show feedback discussions with teenagers.

“It has opened the eyes of a lot of people who aren’t always as well connected to what is happening in the world of young people as they could be,” says Smith, who notes that young people in rural eastern Ontario face many challenges, not least of which are long waiting lists for a number of services to meet the needs of the teen population. “Through theatre, we tell stories that we hope will provoke the kind of discussion needed to hear what young people’s lives are really like and hopefully to generate the kinds of changes they need to live healthy lives.”

The play tours throughout Lanark County on the following dates: Wed. Apr. 17 at 4:30pm, WAK, Smiths Falls Youth Arena,
71A Lansdowne Street, Smiths Falls
Thurs. Apr. 18 at 6:00pm, Carambeck Community Centre, 351 Bridge Street, Carleton Place
Wed. Apr. 24 at 5pm, Mississippi Mills Youth Centre, 134 Main St. E., Almonte
Thurs. Apr. 25 at 6:30pm, Royal Canadian Legion, 26 Beckwith St. E., Perth;
Fri. Apr. 26 at 6pm, Lanark Highlands Youth Centre, 61 Princess St., Village of Lanark.

For further information call 613-264-8088 or email

Felix Evangelho and Ryan Kreissler, seen in last year’s Listen Up! play on sexual assault, return for the 2019 project, The Strangest Dream, focused on body image and self-esteem. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

SEEKING PERFORMERS: For Summer Youth Training Program 

In this scene from last year’s walking play The Prisoner of Petawawa, Mallory Brumm plays a young Perth woman comforting her veteran husband (Connor Williamson) who experiences PTSD after World War II. Applications for this year’s summer theatre troupe with the Classic Theatre Festival are being accepted until Feb 10.

The Classic Theatre Festival is accepting resumes from young people aged 15 to 29 to take part in this summer’s paid youth theatre training program. While experience is not required, the Festival is looking for people with a strong interest both in performing and in working behind the scenes.

Successful applicants will be featured (and will also stage manage) the Perth through the Ages historic walking plays, a popular tourist attraction each summer that brings to life the stories and fabled characters of Perth’s past. Those familiar with this beloved annual ritual will recognize the costumed characters singing, dancing, and re-enacting Perth history on Gore Street, Foster Street, and in the unique alleyways of the downtown core.

The 2019 walking play will focus on how residents of Perth came together to survive the economic austerity of the Great Depression during the 1930s.

In addition to performing street level all summer long, program participants will also appear in playwright Laurel Smith’s new adaptation of the hilarious Shaw comedy about the Roman Empire, Androcles and the Lion, the entertainment portion of this year’s Classic Dinner Theatre with Michael’s Table. Building on the success of last year’s inaugural show, the dinner theatre is adding a lunchtime component too. Both will play on Tuesdays.

“It’s always wonderful to work with the very talented young people in this area who are looking for a career in the arts,” explains Smith, who notes that some graduates of the program have gone off to major in theatre at schools as diverse as Queen’s and York University. “And when you can get paid to do what you love, that’s a real bonus.”

Interested individuals should send a resume and letter of interest to by February 10.