Charitable Program Gets New Name

Bernard Behrens and Deborah Cass

The Classic Theatre Festival’s charitable Save-a-Seat program has been renamed for Canadian performers Bunny Behrens (seen as Caliban) and Deborah Cass (as Ariel) in the Canadian Players’ 1959 production of The Tempest..

Ever since Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival began performing hits from the golden age of Broadway in 2010, it has maintained a program that opens up blocks of free seats, making professional theatre accessible to all members of the community, regardless of income. Begun with a grant from the Perth & District Community Foundation, the Classic Theatre Festival’s Save-a-Seat program has offered over 600 free theatre tickets to individuals who can access them at the Salvation Army, through Lanark County Social Services, The Table, YAK, and various other agencies that serve residents surviving on limited incomes. Other groups have included First Nations Deer Lake evacuees who were then being housed in Smiths Falls, and residents of women’s shelters.

“The program was originally inspired by a 2009 letter to the editor we saw in the Perth Courier,” explains Artistic Director Laurel Smith. “Sue Cavanagh of Lanark County Child and Youth Poverty Action Network discussed in poignant detail the opportunities missed by at least 12% of children in Lanark County who cannot go to birthday parties, attend after school activities, have a pet, enjoy the arts, and, on a more direct level, miss out on one or more meals in a day. “It was a reminder that behind the gorgeous facades of Heritage Perth and the other communities in Lanark, we have a hidden poverty that is not just economically marginalizing, it is also socially isolating. Save-a-Seat breaks that social isolation and can serve as a step into re-integrating into the community. Some of those who first met us through Save-a-Seat have become volunteers.”

Smith also points out that the Classic Theatre Festival serves as a significant economic driver in the summer, bringing thousands of tourists to town whose spending in stores, restaurants, and accommodations has a positive economic impact that results in increased employment and related social benefits. Following a partnership with the Perth Museum last summer that featured a Canadian Theatre History exhibit, Save-a-Seat was renamed in honour of the parents of the Festival’s Associate Producer, Matthew Behrens.

“The Deborah Cass/Bunny Behrens Save-a-Seat program was named for my parents because they toured this country with Canadian Players in the early years of the Stratford Festival, bringing theatre to the people and making this magical experience accessible to all,” says Matthew Behrens. “They were also very committed to the idea of social justice and equality, so we figured that combination of community commitment and artistic excellence should be remembered in an active, living program like Save-a-Seat.” Bunny Behrens lived at Lanark Lodge until he passed away in September, 2012, but during his time in Perth was memorable as a raconteur whose stories of the golden age of Canadian and British theatre included his own early days at the Bristol Old Vic, where he acted with (and was also a drinking buddy of) the late Peter O’Toole, who passed away in early January 2014.

Charitable, tax-deductible donations to the renamed Deborah Cass/Bunny Behrens Save-a-Seat program can be made by writing a cheque to Burning Passions Theatre, PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0 or online  at:

Top Ranking for Customer Service

CTF Volunteers

Fay Nelson and Christine Ranney were part of the hard-working crew of volunteers who earned the Classic Theatre Festival a top ranking with the OHvation customer service program.

As the Classic Theatre Festival looks back on its 4th summer season this Thanksgiving, it has plenty to be thankful for. Its two summer shows – Neil Simon’s “The Star-Spangled Girl” and Leslie Stevens’ “The Marriage-Go-Round” – were both popular and critical successes that drew thousands of tourists to town, the equivalent of between one and two tour buses daily.

A key part of that success was the Festival’s volunteer team, led by Madeleine Labelle, who coordinated scores of people involved in putting together the sets, maintaining the front-of-house operations, and assisting audience members with special needs. Their efforts, while already appreciated by visitors, were recently acknowledged through the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) OHvation Customer Service Designation Program, which gave the Festival top marks. As a result, the Festival will be listed among those events and services in this tourism region that are the top ranked with respect to customer service.

The program is based on the Mystery Shopper model, in which the host does not know when the shopper will show up. Among those areas rated were service delivery, employee attitudes and presentation, knowledge of the area, ease of finding the space given clear and understandable signage, accessibility of the website, whether staff maintained eye contact and showed an interest in questions and concerns, and quality of the experience. The mystery shopper found the play – “The Marriage-Go-Round”– was “professional” and “delightful.”

“Part of what makes the Festival such an important tourism draw for the town of Perth and surrounding communities is the high customer service standards we set for everyone who works with us,” says Labelle. “Our motto is professional standards with a community feel, and it’s clear from this designation that our approach not only works, but feels great for everyone involved too.”

While the Festival gets set to announce its 2014 summer season, which will include some new programming enhancements that will be focused on adding to the experience of visiting Perth, Artistic Producer Laurel Smith is feeling “blessed” to see such support from community volunteers.

“We are so lucky to have a solid group of folks who really care about what we are doing and are committed to making the Festival as good an experience as possible as we approach out 5th anniversary,” Smith says.

Details on the 5th anniversary season will be announced soon at

Announcing Fifth Anniversary Season

The Classic Theatre’s Festival’s fifth anniversary season of hits from the golden age of Broadway and the London Stage promises a number of innovative additions while staging entertaining productions that will draw audiences from across Eastern and Central Ontario as well as the U.S. The Festival’s hugely popular Holiday Sale returns this year, whereby anyone can purchase a voucher before December 31 that entitles them to 20% off any ticket, with the freedom to pick their actual show dates closer to summer.

Come Blow Your Horn

July 11 to August 3, 2014
A swinging ’60s comedy

The Festival’s summer season will open with Neil Simon’s Broadway debut, the uproariously funny “Come Blow Your Horn,” Simon’s comedic take on the swinging bachelor lifestyle of the early 1960s. The story of a ladies’ man who appears to tire of juggling girlfriends, and his younger brother who idolizes his sibling and wants to follow in his footsteps, the play features trademark Simon characters, from a pair of outrageous parents with unforgettable one-liners to a bubble-headed airline stewardess smitten with the hope of a Hollywood career, and a less than successful singer whose latest achievement is performing “Why Not Take All of Me” while dressed as a sausage. “Come Blow Your Horn” runs July 11-August 3.

“This play really set the stage for what followed with Simon’s career,” says Artistic Producer Laurel Smith, who notes that audience requests for more Simon plays after the Festival’s 2013 hit production of “The Star-Spangled Girl” contributed to this choice. “This is an affectionate look at family, the tensions that arise when children do not meet parental expectations, and finding your way in a world of mixed messages about relationships. Just reading the play, we found ourselves laughing out loud, so you can imagine how much audiences will enjoy this once it’s up on the stage.”

Dial M for Murder

August 5-31, 2014
The classic mystery thriller

The Festival’s second show is a new direction for the company, one of the all-time great mystery thrillers, Frederick Knott’s “Dial M for Murder.” Originally produced in 1952 and later turned into a classic Alfred Hitchcock film, the plot follows the dastardly plans of a has-been tennis player who arranges the murder of his wealthy wife. The intricacies of the scheme, the investigation by Scotland Yard, and the possibility that the plotter may be caught leave audiences on the edge of their seats. The New York Times called it “remarkably good theatre, tingling with excitement.” “Dial M for Murder” will run August 8-31.

“Reading the play on paper is real page turner; seeing it on stage will be even more exciting,” says Smith. “Audiences will really enjoy this play, because it has all the elements that make up a good mystery, with a slow but steady build that, while working well on film, works even better live. Because audiences are so close to the stage, they feel like part of the action,” explains Smith.

During 2014, the Festival will add an additional Thursday matinee, and shows will run Wed.-Sat, at 8 pm, with 2 pm matinees each Wed., Thurs., Sat. & Sun. Each matinee will feature the return of the hugely popular pre-show talks that situate the play in its historical context, explain plot elements, the background of the playwright, and a discussion of the show’s original production.

The Festival will also feature a Canadian theatre history exhibit in its lobby, building on the success of the “Now and Then” exhibit that graced the walls of the Perth Museum during the summer and fall of 2013. It also has plans for a guided walking tour named “Perth through the Ages,” featuring our new youth theatre troupe that will animate the Town’s downtown core by recreating scenes from Perth’s history four mornings a week.

The Festival also plans its third edition of the ever-popular “Swing Into Spring,” a big band dance extravaganza that returns to the Perth Civitan Club on Saturday May 3rd, with the 16-piece band, “Standing Room Only.”

Until December 31, purchasers can take advantage of the Festival’s annual Holiday Sale and receive a 20% discount, with the freedom to pick their dates later in 2014. They will also receive a 10% discount on the May 3rd Big Band dance with every Festival ticket purchase. For tickets and further information, contact 1-877-283-1283 or visit


Canadian Theatre History Exhibit Extends its Run

“Now and Then: Found Treasures of Canadian Theatre History,” an exhibit that has been running all summer at the Perth Museum (Matheson House), is extending its successful run another month until November 4. The exhibit – a colourful journey through some significant periods in the post-World War II development of Canadian culture, as well as some remarkable pieces of Perth’s own theatrical history that go back almost a century – has been a big hit with tourists who toured the installation before and after shows at the Classic Theatre Festival this past summer.

“We’ve had a lot of ‘wow’ moments from visitors who have really enjoyed this trip down Canada’s theatrical memory lane,” says Museum Curator Karen Rennie. “Where else in this neck of the woods can you see 1950s resume pictures of Christopher Plummer and William Shatner before they found international fame?”

The exhibit was largely inspired by the lives of Canadian actors Bernard Behrens and Deborah Cass, both of whom worked in the early years of Stratford and CBC, touring North America with Canadian Players, playing summer stock, and performing at the Toronto Crest Theatre, Halifax’s Neptune Theatre, and the Shaw Festival. They were part of a generation whose faces many Canadians grew up watching both on stage and on TV shows such as The Forest Rangers and The Beachcombers, and many of those performers are featured in photographs and paintings at the Perth Museum exhibit.

The Now and Then part of the exhibit focuses on original Canadian productions of shows that have been performed by the Classic Theatre Festival, from The Marriage-Go-Round and The Star-Spangled Girl (last summer’s lineup) to Bell, Book and Candle and The Fourposter.

Visitors to the museum exhibit still have an opportunity to enjoy the sights of Stratford in the 1950s and 1960s, from the colourful playbills and season posters to original magazine stories about landmark moments in Stratford’s theatrical history. They’ll also see original paintings by legendary Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, as well as memorabilia from Perth’s very own Balderson Theatre, which for years was the largest theatre between Toronto and Montreal and was the home of the comic troupe The Marks Brothers.

“This has certainly been a unique look back at some of the founding companies of modern Canadian theatre, and it’s great that we have this opportunity to continue sharing this with visitors as well as residents who haven’t had a chance to see it yet,” says Rennie.

The exhibit, at 11 Gore Street East, runs until November 4.