Telephone: 604 444-4889
Outside Vancouver: 1 888 445-4176
Fax: 604 444-4119
(Ojibway World, from Drew Hayden Taylor’s Berlin Blues)
by Karen Longwell
MILLBROOK — Twenty years ago a small farm transformed into the unique outdoor 4th Line Theatre. The theatre continues to thrive, drawing audiences interested in stories of local culture and heritage.
The theatre began when Robert Winslow, 4th Line Theatre artistic director, inherited the farm from his mother in 1990.
“I had no real knowledge of farming even though I worked here as a teenager and a kid,” said Mr. Winslow.
The family did mixed farming, he said, but when Mr. Winslow inherited the farm he didn’t have the equipment or funds to start farming.
“In order to keep the farm, the idea I had was to start a theatre company,” he said. “Plus it gave me a chance to practise my art where I love to be.”
Mr. Winslow has performed in theatres across Canada, the United States and Britain since 1982. The mandate of the 4th Line Theatre is to produce and develop work based on local history and culture.
“I still have a good feeling about the mandate of the theatre company and the kind of work we do,” he said.
The theatre started with a production of The Cavan Blazers shown over two weekends, said Mr. Winslow. Seats filled with 300 to 350 people a night for that first production, he said.
“We thought, well my God there is an appetite for this sort of thing,” said Mr. Winslow.
The production was a success and went well past those first two weekends into late September, he said.
At first Mr. Winslow was concerned about finding good local stories.
“I did think in the beginning that we might run out of interesting stories to tell,” said Mr. Winslow.
But the theatre company continues to find stories from history and the more recent past, right up to the present day, he said. Writers, elders and members of the community have approached the company with new ideas, he said. The theatre has done a range of stories, such as a show on former Port Hope resident and highwire walker The Great Farini. Shows such as The Right Road to Pontypool and Dr. Barnardo’s Children drew diverse audiences, he said.
“The audience seems quite interested, for one reason or another, in our storytelling out here because they know they are going to learn something, hopefully they will be entertained and they will get a different perspective on something,” he said.
The first show this season, The Berlin Blues, opens on June 30 and runs until July 23.
The idea came out of playwright Drew Hayden Taylor‘s experiences in Germany on lecture tours.
“The more I went over, the more obvious it became, how, in many cases, obsessed and intrigued many German people are with North American Native culture,” said Mr. Taylor, who grew up on Curve Lake First Nation north of Peterborough.
He has been a writer-in-residence at several universities including the University of Luneburg in German.
The story is a humourous take on of how a First Nations’ community reacts when German developers want to build a Native theme park called Ojibway World.
Mr. Taylor has written books on First Nations humour. He describes the dominant trait of the humour as a type of survival mechanism, which can be self deprecating.
Mr. Winslow hopes the show will draw a mix of First Nations people and Europeans in the audience.
The second show of the season, The Cavan Blazers, written by Robert Winslow, runs from Aug. 4 to 27. Mr. Winslow will return in the role of Father Phelan, which he played in the 1992 production. The show has a cast of 60.
The theatre shows no signs of slowing down now and continues to sell out shows. Mr. Winslow is optimistic he can keep going for another 20 years.
“I have to keep in shape and keep strong personally to keep doing it for another 20 (years). I will be almost 80 (years old) at that point,” he said.
For more information or tickets to The Berlin Blues or The Cavan Blazers, contact the 4th Line Theatre at 705-932-4448 or visit www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca.
This article first appeared on the Northumberland News website on June 30, 2011.