Join us at Wordsfest on November 3, 2018 at 1:00 pm at Museum London to hear James Stewart Reaney, James Reaney’s son, speak about James Reaney’s plays for children: Names and Nicknames, Ignoramus, Geography Match, and Apple Butter, a marionette play.
About the speaker:Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, journalist James Stewart Reaney wrote for the London Free Press and now contributes to London Fuse. He has been a witness to — & occasional participant in — London’s creative community since the 1960s. In 1977 he wrote a book about his father’s plays for the Profiles in Canadian Drama series.
James styles his lecture as “I Was So Much Older Then: A reconsideration of Jamie Reaney’s Plays for Children … starring Apple Butter, Hilda History, Amelia (Baby One), Tecumseh & many more”.
Where: Museum London’s Lecture Theatre, 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario
Admission is free!
Our thanks to Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support of this event. The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet and dramatist James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.
Written for children attending the Western Fair in London, Ontario, the first performances of James Reaney’s marionette play Apple Butter took place in a tent on the fairgrounds in September 1965.
In this final scene from the play, orphan hero Apple Butter calls on RAWBONE (a bone fairy) to vanquish his adult oppressors.
APPLE BUTTER: These are words to think upon, Miss Pinch. Rawbone!
A huge whalebone brush enters and chases them about. MOO COW enters and bears VICTOR NIPCHOPPER off on her horns.
MOO COW: The very idea of you pretending to be me, Victor Nipchopper. I never caught my tail in a fence in my life. For I always jump over them neat and clean just the way I’m going to jump with you – over the moon.
MOO COW and VICTOR NIPCHOPPER disappear up. SOLOMON SPOILROD and MISS PINCH kneel for mercy in front of APPLE BUTTER.
MISS PINCH: Forgive us, Apple Butter. We’ll never try to spank you, or any other orphan child again.
APPLE BUTTER: What about you, Solomon Spoilrod? Are you going to be so unmerciful to your scholars ever again?
SOLOMON SPOILROD: No. Just don’t let that Giant Hairbrush at me again.
APPLE BUTTER: Now you know what it feels like to get birched and strapped, don’t you?
SOLOMON SPOILROD: Yes.
APPLE BUTTER: It bears thinking upon, doesn’t it? Now – another thing. Are you going to marry Miss Pinch here, like you keep promising to do every time you get tiddly on her chokecherry wine and mysteriously win all the games of King Pedro?
SOLOMON SPOILROD: (pausing) No!
APPLE BUTTER: Wuzzel!
Either TREE WUZZEL appears or a tree falls down on SOLOMON SPOILROD.
SOLOMON SPOILROD: Yes! If I say yes, will he stop frightening me?
MISS PINCH: Oh, Solomon, I never knew you really cared that much. Apple Butter, you aren’t going to leave us now. Why, we’ll adopt you as our first child and we’ll will the farm to you, come what may. I don’t know how I could be so cruel to such a wise, innocent child.
APPLE BUTTER: Thank you very much, Miss Pinch. But now that the apples are getting ripe, I think I’d better walk around and look at all the orchards to help the people that own them make their apple butter and their apple cider.
MISS PINCH: Where will you sleep? Back at the orphanage?
APPLE BUTTER: No. I only stayed there for a while to help out. I like sleeping out best – under a wild apple tree. Goodbye, folks, and maybe I’ll come to see you in the spring when the apple blossoms are out and bring you a blossom baby.
MISS PINCH AND SOLOMON SPOILROD: Goodbye, Apple Butter. We can just feel how you’ve changed us.
SOLOMON SPOILROD: I feel sweeter inside. And more loving.
MISS PINCH: I don’t feel like Miss Pinch anymore. I feel like Mrs. Spoilrod.
TREE WUZZEL and RAWBONE appear.
APPLE BUTTER: How far will you walk with me, Tree Wuzzel and Rawbone?
TREE WUZZEL AND RAWBONE: As far as you’re going, Apple Butter.
APPLE BUTTER: As far as I’m going…. That bears thinking on.
Fanshawe Pioneer Village, July 11-25: The AlvegoRoot Theatre Company will present two new plays this summer — Welcome to Bon Echo, by Aimee Adler, about pioneer suffragist Flora MacDonald Denison, and a stage version of James Reaney’s historical children’s novel The Boy with an R in His Hand.
Adam Corrigan Horowitz, AlvegoRoot’s Artistic Director, has adapted Reaney’s story to tell the tale of an orphaned brother and sister, Alec and Elizabeth, who arrive in the town of York in Upper Canada in 1826.
Though Alec and Elizabeth both seek peace and security in their new home, they find themselves on opposite sides of the Family Compact versus Reform debate. Alec falls afoul of his Tory-minded Uncle John when he becomes a printer’s apprentice in Reform politician William Lyon Mackenzie‘s print shop, setting the scene for the famous “Types Riot” by Mackenzie’s political foes.
This adaptation makes skillful use of Alec’s totem protectors — a bear, a crow, and a monkey — who help reunite the brother and sister and set right injustice from the past.
Here is the Eleventh Letter from Twelve Letters to a Small Town, a suite of poems James Reaney wrote for composer John Beckwith in 1962.
ELEVENTH LETTER — Shakespearean Gardens
The Tempest The violet lightning of a March thunderstorm glaring the patches of ice still stuck to the streets.
Two Gentlemen of Verona On Wellington St. an elegant colonel-looking gentleman with waxed white moustachioes that came to tight little points.
Merry Wives of Windsor The Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Orange Lodge marched down the street in white dresses with orange bows on them.
Richard III At last all the children ran away from home and were brought up by an old spinster who lived down the street.
Henry VIII Mr. White’s second wife was the first Mrs. Brown and the first Mrs. White was the second Mrs. Brown.
Troilus & Cressida “Well, I haven’t been to that old Festival yet but since it began I’ve had ten different boyfriends.”
Titus Andronicus Young Mr. Wood to-day lost his right hand in an accident at the lumber yards.
Romeo & Juliet Romeo & Juliet Streets.
Timon of Athens Old Miss Shipman lived alone in a weatherbeaten old cottage and could occasionally be seen out on the front lawn cutting the grass with a small sickle.
Julius Caesar Antony wore a wrist watch in the Normal School production although he never looked at it during the oration.
Macbeth Principal Burdoch’s often expressed opinion was that a great many people would kill a great many other people if they knew for certain they could get away with it.
Hamlet A girl at the bakery took out a boat on the river, tied candlesticks to her wrists and drowned herself.
King Lear Mr. Upas was a silver haired cranky old individual who complained that the meat was too tough at the boarding house.
Othello At the edge of town there stood a lonely white frame building—a deserted Negro church.
The Merchant of Venice When my cousin worked for the Silversteins she had her own private roll of baloney kept aside in the refrigerator for her.
Henry V The local armouries are made of the usual red brick with the usual limestone machicolation.
Twelve Letters to a Small Town was first published in 1962 by the Ryerson Press. In the Afterword to the 2002 facsimile edition, James Reaney wrote that after it was published, “Many Stratford residents said they saw on paper for the first time their memories of the town and wrote to me to say so.”
Among the shows currently on at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario are The Tempest, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and The Comedy of Errors.
“… The essence of Reaney’s visual art is his resounding respect for play as a catalyst to unlock creativity — his and ours — and to transform the world perpetually through metaphors that resonate mythically.” (Devil’s Artisan, Issue 82, page 53)
I saw the sundogs barking
On either side of the Sun
As he was making his usual will
And last testament
In a glorious vestment.
And the sundogs cried,
We’ll make a ring
Around the moon
And children, seeing it, will say:
Up there they play Farmer in the Dell
And the moon like the cheese stands still.
We shall drown the crickets,
Set the killdeer birds crying,
Send shingles flying,
And pick all the apples
Ripe or not.
Our barking shall overturn
Hencoops and rabbit-hutches,
Shall topple over privies
With people inside them,
And burn with invisible,
Oh, very invisible!
In each frightened tree.
Whole branches we’ll bite off
And for the housewife’s sloth
In not taking them in
We’ll drag her sheets and pillow cases
Off the fence
And dress up in them
And wear them thin.
And people will say
Both in the country
And in the town
It falls in pails
Of iron nails.
We’ll blow the curses
Right back into the farmer’s mouths
As they curse our industry
And shake their fists,
For we will press the oats
Close to the ground,
Lodge the barley,
And rip open the wheat stooks.
We shall make great faces
Of dampness appear on ceilings
And blow down chimneys
Till the fire’s lame.
With the noise of a thousand typewriters
We shall gallop over the roofs of town.
We are the Sun’s animals.
We stand by him in the West
And ready to obey
His most auburn wish
For Rain, Wind and Storm
Smart also mentioned Reaney’s interest in children’s art and the work of psychologist and educator Rhoda Kellogg, who analyzed thousands of drawings by children to show the evolution of their early non-pictorial work, or scribbling, to pictorial drawing. The child-like lone figure or “playful witness” is also a device that Reaney uses in many of his drawings and paintings.
Throughout his literary career, poet and dramatist James Reaney also produced sketches, drawings, and paintings to explore the ideas in his writing. Common themes in Reaney’s visual art are play, home, regionalism, symbolism, and the interplay between text and image.*
When: Sunday November 5 at 5:30 pm
Where: Museum London, 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario
Admission is free; James Stewart Reaney, James Reaney’s son, will introduce the speaker.
Our thanks to Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support of this event. The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.
*See the Spring Exhibitions invitation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, April 17, 2008.
From 1969 to 1970, Earle Toppings, broadcaster and editor at the Ontario Institute for Education (OISE), organized a series of interviews and recordings with 16 Canadian authors for use as a resource in high schools and colleges.
Literary Titans Revisited: The Earle Toppings Interviews with CanLit Poets and Writers of the Sixties, edited by Professor Anne Urbancic, presents exact transcripts of Earle Toppings’s interviews with Canadian authors Margaret Laurence, Morley Callaghan, Hugh Garner, Hugh MacLennan, Mordecai Richler, Sinclair Ross, Dorothy Livesay, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Al Purdy, Earle Birney, F.R. Scott, Irving Layton,Miriam Waddington, Raymond Souster, Eli Mandel, and James Reaney.
On December 14, 1970, James Reaney met interviewer Earle Toppings and asked that his recording session for the Canadian Poets on Tape series be recorded at a piano, and fortunately the basement studio of the OISE building in Toronto had one. Reaney then played musical excerpts (for example, “Beulah Land” and “The Maple Leaf Rag”) and also read poems from The Red Heart, A Suit of Nettles, Twelve Letters to a Small Town, Night Blooming Cereus, The Dance of Death at London, Ontario, One Man Masque, and Colours in the Dark. He begins this way:
[Reaney performs “Beulah Land,” a fragment of an old hymn, on the piano.]
That’s the first poem I ever heard, at an early denominational Sunday school. I’m sitting at a piano on Bloor Street near a subway that you’ll hear thundering by occasionally, and I’ve got… sort of… my collected works around me. I’m going to read from The Red Heart first of all, and I’m going to occasionally call forth from the piano pieces of music that really make a comment on the poems in a sort of way. […] [See pages 286-287.]
♦ A special evening to launch the book will be held on October 5from 6-8 pm at the EJ Pratt Library, 71 Queen’s Park Crescent East, Toronto, Ontario.