Summer’s barely arrived and I’m just back from my annual jaunt to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. As always, it was a great time, a complete time-out from day-to-day reality. I caught three plays while I was there: Sondheim and Wheeler’s A Little Night Music, GB Shaw’s Getting Married and JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. I enjoyed them all, probably for different reasons.
Night Music was produced at the Court House Theatre, the smallest stage at the Festival. Considering it’s a musical, that was an interesting decision. As someone who hasn’t previously seen it produced, I kept wondering if I wouldn’t enjoy it more on a larger stage. The production seemed a little uneven to me, but what do I know? Some great catchy tunes and one-liners. It was fun to finally see “Send in the Clowns” in the original context. Outrageous males egos justifiably taken down a few notches and a happy romantic ending to boot! Who could ask for more?
Getting Married is an early and not particularly well-known Shaw play. It demonstrates his usual wit and intelligence, this time around the issue of marriage, Edwardian style. Shaw skewers laws regarding women’s rights, men’s responsibilities and the lack of accessible divorce. Although many of these laws have changed for the better and the social safety net is more supportive than it was, there are still many truths here.
I especially enjoyed the atmospheric production of An Inspector Calls. Fascinating and timeless social commentary guised as a whodunit. An incredibly prolific writer of plays, fiction and social comment, Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls mid-career, just as WWII was winding down. Priestley works an unexpected magic with time and perspective, something we tend to associate more with post-modernist writers of a slightly later period. Well worth seeing.
Although I enjoyed the plays, I was also struck by the advanced years of most of the patrons. Although I’ve noticed this in previous years, it’s becoming more noticeable with each passing season. I start wondering if the majority of Shaw-goers are the original theatregoers who established their membership in the 1960s (the Festival was established the same year I was).
After I got settled in to enjoy A Little Night Music and had helped my neighbour stow her cane beneath our seats, she asked, “What are we here to see, dear?” Overhearing audience conversation at other shows, it became apparent that many of the patrons had no idea what they were seeing. They seemed to be there out of ritual, rather than interest. Which begs the question, what’s going to happen in the next ten years when this audience starts expiring?
I was also more aware of the Festival’s attempts to accommodate patrons with disabilities. At the Royal George, I watched two ushers wielding a ramp into place so an audience member could come and go through the side door. Although an elevator has been installed at The Court House, it’s inadequate to the demands of traffic and theatregoers still have to walk up several stairs, complaining loudly as they go.
The Shaw has also introduced headsets to aid the hearing impaired. Throughout An Inspector Calls, a portion of the audience, myself included, were exposed to the ongoing shriek of electronic feedback because a gentleman was using one of these devices improperly in conjunction with his hearing aid. There were also very loud comments between himself and his equally deaf companion declaring that the headset wasn’t working during the nearly silent atmospheric moments of the play.
While I support the Shaw’s efforts at providing resources to improve access, I humbly suggest that they invest a little more effort so that the enjoyment of other audience members isn’t so adversely affected.
I also took a day to just wander around downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake. While I noticed some closed shops and peak-season sales last year, it was even more noticeable this time. Storefronts on the main drag were up for lease and the majority of shops seemed to have sales. It just seemed the picture of a small town in crisis.
Still, it was a lovely day. The sun was shining, the flowers blooming. I enjoyed a picnic lunch in the park while watching a little one with her Mum parade through the fountain. It was a day to relax, to be nowhere in particular, and that was a pleasant and welcome change.
Now I’m back home and back writing. I’ve just put the finishing touches on Charlie & Moon & Skye & I, something that’s essentially been finished for years. But it feels good to do the final polish and prepare to start sending it to publishers. It’s a long poem with accompanying colour photos, what some would call a gift book. Looking forward to having it out there at last. Also looking forward to bearing down on the other five book projects at various stages of incompletion. It feels good to be tapping into the time, energy and motivation to do my own work again, at long last.
Still ahead this summer, I’m making plans to visit my grade eight teacher in Wellington. She’s promised to show me the sights of Prince Edward County, a lovely part of the province.
I’ve also booked the family cottage for a couple of weeks and hope to spend that time simply relaxing, reading fun stuff and hanging out with friends. I figure I owe myself a real holiday before school starts.
Oh, I guess I should mention that. I’m returning to school this fall to begin my PhD in Communication and Culture. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, but it didn’t make sense with the family situation. I didn’t want to begin something and then have to pull out partway through because of a family crisis. So now that things have come to their natural conclusion, I can focus on this effort without that enormous weight. I’m excited and a little nervous to be going back, but I think it’s going to be overwhelmingly positive. The timing seems perfect. And as to what else I’ll get up to, I’ll see when I get there!thisisnot 5:31
Cheers and enjoy the summer!
© Catherine Jenkins 2008