Farming and Music at 4th Line Theatre

The Link, Summer 2019
| by Josie Newman |

There are some exciting new programs at 4th Line Theatre this summer which will add an extra dimension to Carmel and Bloom: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fable, the two new plays being presented.

Farm Forums, round-table discussions on farm families and the critical issues they face such as inheritance of the farm in multi-children families, the business aspects of running a farm, and establishing effective communication between organic and traditional farmers will be featured prior to some performances of Carmel.

“There are some exciting new programs at 4th Line Theatre this summer which will add an extra dimension to…the two new plays being presented.”

“Carmel is based on a farm family during the Depression in 1937, when many farms were seized for missing payments. I thought of getting farmers together to talk about what it was like then to run a farm and what it is like now. I’m going to be interviewing three generations from one farm family,” said Kim Blackwell, managing artistic director of 4th Line Theatre.

She said that when 4th Line first began showing plays back in 1992, most of the play’s attendees were local farmers. Now, 60 per cent of those who attend 4th Line plays live in Peterborough, while the rest come from a 50 kilometre radius, or even as far away as Toronto or the Kingston area.

Carmel is the third in a series about two orphan boys who were sent from England to the Millbrook area to work on farms. In Carmel, the two boys, Billy and Walter, are now men in their 40s. The focus of the play is on a family trying to save their farm during the Depression. Bits of local history are woven into the story, too, which includes a strike at a woollen mill.

Directed by Robert Winslow, 4th Line Theatre’s founder, it is co-written by Winslow and Ian McLachlan, a Peterborough writer and retired Trent University professor. McLachlan also wrote the lyrics for the songs, many of which are early labour protest music.

Dr. Barnardo’s Children, which ran in 2005, 2006 and 2014, chronicled the story of Billy and Walter when they first immigrated to Canada at the turn of the 20th century under Dr. Barnardo’s sponsorship program. They were part of the home child movement which sponsored 100,000 orphaned or poor children between the late 1890s and the 1930s to emigrate to Canada as indentured farm workers as a means of avoiding starvation in England. Philanthropist Dr. Thomas Barnardo was one of the major drivers of the movement in England, and ran several homes for orphans.

Wounded Soldiers, which also ran in 2014, focused on one of the men as a Canadian soldier who was sent to Europe to fight in WWI. The first two plays were co-written by Winslow and McLachlan, too.

Robert Winslow, 4th Line Theatre founder, says a fourth play is in the works, which will focus on the farm family’s housekeeper in the 1950s.

“Midsummer Night’s Music, a series of two concerts to be held in downtown Millbrook on July 20 and August 24, following the play performances, will feature local musicians as well as some of the musical cast members from Bloom,” said Blackwell. “Wailin’ Wednesdays is a new program, too, which will feature local musicians playing in the picnic area of 4th Line Theatre before the show on Wednesdays.”

“The idea is to highlight music this year because Bloom is inspired by the stories of the real members of The Band, one of the most famous rock bands of all time,” she said. “Three of the five members of The Band were from small-town Ontario, as was Ronnie Hawkins, who they originally played back-up music for before they split off and became big.”

Beau Dixon, the playwright and one of two songwriters of Bloom, said he was inspired to write his fictitious story, which has similarities to the true story of The Band, because the members of The Band were rural young men who eventually became the biggest band in history.

“That resonated with me because I know what it is like to be a singer-songwriter and have nobody recognize your name. I am familiar with my cohorts reaching success before me. The play mirrors my life and being a band member playing in a band,” said Dixon, whose backup singer many years ago was Serena Ryder.

The story-line is about five young men born in Assumption, Ontario who form a band and then team up with a female songwriter and play together during the 1960s. Their talent is discovered when they play in a bar in Toronto and they then go on to stardom. The two founding members of the band, who have been lifelong friends, soon begin to fight over the female songwriter who is a composite of several famous singers of that era, including Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King.

Dixon and Dave Tough wrote all the music for Bloom, which was inspired by the music of The Band.

Bloom: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fable runs July 2 to 27, from Tuesday to Saturday, at 6 pm, with an extra performance on Monday, July 22.

Carmel runs August 6 to 21, from Tuesday to Saturday, at 6 pm, with an extra performance on Monday, August 26.

Farm Forums run on Tuesday, August 13, 20, and 27, from 4 to 4:45 pm.

Midsummer Night’s Music will be held on Saturday, July 20 and August 24 following the play performance.

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Josie Newman, a previous full-time journalist who now works freelance, is a lifelong writer and lover of the arts. She lives in Oshawa, in an older house surrounded by antiques, plants and cats.

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