Congratulations to Helen Monroe and Jewel Weed Theatre Company for their successful adaptation of James Reaney’s children’s play Apple Butter at the Fringe Theatre Festival in Kingston, Ontario this week.
Originally conceived as a marionette play, this adaptation uses “actors, puppets, masks and a touch of magic” to bring the story of orphan Apple Butter and his sojourn at Hester Pinch’s farm to life.
Jennifer Brook designed the puppets and masks, and Peter Jarvis composed original songs for the play. The performers are Nicola Atkinson, Adrian Beattie, Kayla Farris, Connor Marois, and Reanne Spitzer.
Part of this year’s Storefront Fringe Festival, the show runs from June 23 to July 1. Order tickets here.
Director Helen Monroe has shared these photos of designs from the play:
On May 30, 1996, “An Evening with James Reaney & Friends” was held at the G.A. Wheable Adult Education Centre in London, Ontario to celebrate the publication of The Box Social and Other Stories, a collection of James Reaney’s short fiction.
I was a student at the University of Toronto in the last years of the 1950s, and James Reaney — who had been cutting an odd swath there several years before — was still an oral tradition. He was known as an enfant terrible who’d published a scandalous story called “The Box Social,” which dealt with gynecological matters unmentionable at that time, and dealt with them in a shocking fashion. (Inside the box of the title — supposed to contain a lunch — there was a fetus.) Nobody seemed to know where this story could actually be read, so its reputation was in consequence tremendous. (I’m happy to say it has now finally been republished.) Reaney was also remembered as having staged a production of Beowulf in which Beowulf himself turned out to be the monster who was murdering and eating his own faithful followers. The more you think about that, the more plausible it becomes.
I was in the Honours English course, and as a consequence we read almost no Canadian literature; but my older brother was in Honours Biology, which included a Canadian literature course. You may ponder the logic of that — why them and not us? Maybe the biologists took CanLit because it was thought to have a lot of animals in it. However, I was in the habit of reading my brother’s books, and it was in the first Robert Weaver short-story anthology that I came across Reaney’s story “The Bully.” It made a big impression on me — it seemed a way of writing about Canadian reality that did not confine itself to the strict social realism that was mostly the fashion then. I went on to read all of Reaney’s poetry available at the time: here was a fresh, brilliant, and quirky literary landscape in the process of being formed and, I should say, against considerable odds…. [Excerpted from Margaret Atwood, “Remembering James Reaney”, Brick Issue 82 (Winter 2009), page 160.]
Note from Susan Reaney: The event was part of the For the Love of Literacy Writers Festival organized by London educator Win Schell to bring local writers to the school. (James Reaney: Listening to the Wind, a film biography of James Reaney produced by Nancy Johnson of Lockwood Films, was to have had its premiere that night, but had to be delayed to the fall.)
After the introduction by Margaret Atwood, James Reaney had planned to read “The Box Social” for the audience, but decided not to and read “The Bully” instead. We were disappointed that he did not give voice to the long-lost story, but a friend from school days said that “The Bully” was an entirely appropriate story to read in a high school.
“James Reaney’s plays — Colours in the Dark (1969), Baldoon (1976), and The Donnellys (1974-7) — as well as his short stories “The Bully” and “The Box Social” (reprinted in The Box Social and Other Stories in 1996), also assume Gothic elements of the macabre rooted in nightmarish families and uncanny action. […]
What makes this locale so prone to Gothic tales is the failure of communication between family members or social groups. In the absence of communication, strange projections and psychological grotesqueries spring up and rapidly grow to unmanageable proportions. Malevolent fantasies are the source and sustenance of the Gothic tradition.”
— Michael Hurley and Allan Hepburn in The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, pages 593-594. William Toye, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2011.
March 29, 2017 — Congratulations to the King’s Theatrical Society of King’s University College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for their wonderful production of James Reaney’s 1967 play Colours in the Dark.
Thank you cast members Alex McVittie, Caleb Sher, Ella MacDonald, Frances Grace Fyfe, Jack Lewis, Jacob Hermant, Jeremy Earley, Julia Hancock-Song, Julia Schultz, Maxim Makarov, and Robert Sapp for your spirited performances.
Colours in the Dark was directed by James Reaney’s granddaughter, Edie Reaney Chunn, who also wrote original music for the play: “This process has been wonderful, in part because of hearing my own voice in my grandfather’s writing, but also because of the new things I have learned to do, and learned that I love doing.”
Here are pictures from the play taken by Producer Erica Guy:
The King’s Theatrical Society (KTS) is a student-run theatrical organization, and every year students propose ideas for plays. The KTS Winter Season for 2017 also featured The Woman in Black by Stephen Malatratt (directed by Jessica MacIsaac), and Bone Cage by Catherine Banks (directed by Miranda Bowron). Here’s to more great plays next season!
For more about the play, see Ophelia Stone’s review in Watch Magazine.
On March 8, the University of Toronto Faculty of Music held a 90th birthday celebration for former dean John Beckwith, and he presented a lecture on Canadian music since 1967. Congratulations on your 90th, John!
More concerts featuring John Beckwith’s music are planned:
♦ On April 28, New Music Concerts in Toronto will present a program he is curating, featuring his Avowals (1985) and the premières of two mixed instrumentation chamber works: Quintet (2015) and Calling (2016).
((( ♦ )))Archived recordings of John Beckwith’s music, including several Beckwith-Reaney works, are available for streaming at the Canadian Music Centre’s Composer Showcase.
John Beckwith and James Reaney became friends during their student days at the University of Toronto in 1946, and a shared love of music drew them to collaborate on several operas, plays, and musical collages. Four operas Night Blooming Cereus(1959), The Shivaree (1982), Crazy to Kill (1988), and Taptoo! (1994) are among the most notable.
Archived recordings of several Beckwith-Reaney works are available for streaming at the Canadian Music Centre‘s Composer Showcase.
When: Saturday November 5 at 4:30 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.
August 23-29, 1965 in Leith, Ontario — Family friend Leith Peterson shares this Polaroid photo taken by her mother, Jay Peterson (1920-1976), who invited James Reaney and family up to her cottage at Leith to create the marionettes for James Reaney’s children’s play Apple Butter.
Here are the Reaney children (James, John, and Susan) and Jay’s niece Elizabeth Tinker with new-made marionette Apple Butter, soon to make his stage debut at the Western Fair in London (September 3-12, 1965).
In The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, James Reaney notes that “what follows here is an account of the events that culminated in the killing of the ‘somewhat notorious Donnelly family’ [4 February 1880] and what happened to the survivors, William and Robert Donnelly, up to their departure from Lucan in 1883. Indeed, subsequent events merit another volume: their arrival in their new home in Glencoe; the fact that the Donnelly brothers retained their father’s farm in Biddulph; that in 1905, Robert came back to live in Lucan, along with his nephew, James Michael, son of the ill-fated Michael Donnelly…” (See The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, page xv.)
Here is an excerpt from Act II, Scenes 3 and 4, where the two boys visit the old hermit, Mr. Winemeyer, and see his sculptures.
BOY 1: Where’d you get the peacock feather, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: Had a pet peacock once when I was a boy. A big old sow we had had a peeve about it – and one day caught it in the orchard and devoured it. This – was all that was left of my beautiful bird. Sticking out of that beast’s mouth.
BOY 1: holding the feather And nothing else has happened to you lately?
HERMIT: Well – yes – this happened. I happened to be out in the yard scraping out my frying pan when coming down through the air I saw – a falling star.
It does. It is yellow.
BOY 2: What are you going to do with this falling star, Mr. Winemeyer?
4. CEMENT SCULPTURES
SCREEN: Actual slides of the Goderich, Ontario, primitive sculptor Laithwaite – his cement figures.
HERMIT: Come out with me to the orchard and see my latest cement sculptures.
On cue, the sculpture slides appear. They could also be mimed by the Company.
Now here’s Sir John A. at the plow!
Here’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That’s the only film I’ve ever seen and the only one I’ll ever see. You can’t go any higher than that in film art.
BOY 2: Who’s this?
HERMIT: That’s the infant Riel suckled by the buffalo Manitoba.
BOY 1: What’s this one doing, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: I finished that last April — that’s Mackenzie King cultivating the rows of compromise. Now – here is where I’m using this falling star. Here’s Good – in a terrible combat with his brother Evil – over – this.
He places the star between the statue-actor’s hands. The star has now become a lump of rock.
BOY 2: Could I have a piece of that star?
HERMIT: Why sure. These two projecting knobs will never be missed. Both have a piece.
BOYS: Gee, thank you, Mr. Winemeyer.
We hear music. The Windlady appears with her Rain Doll.
HERMIT: Now there’s a good subject for a piece of sculpture.
BOYS: What, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: The Wind and the Rain.
He and his statues fade slowly. BOY 1 starts playing the bicycle spokes. BOY 2 goes back and says:
BOY 2: Mr. Winemeyer – was the pig your brother? Were you the peacock?
♦ For a delightful tour of George Laithwaite’s sculptures (summer and winter!), see Harrison Engle’s film “Legacy” (1960?), which features commentary by Laithwaite’s family and J.H. Neill, then Curator of the Huron County Pioneer Museum.
Colours in the Dark by James Reaney is available fromTalonbooks.
Congratulations to the students of R.H. King and Agincourt Secondary Schools and students from the University of Toronto Scarborough for their wonderful outdoor performance of “The Donnelly Project”, a special adaptation of three scenes from James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I.
Adapted by Tarragon Theatre’s Playwright-in-ResidenceKat Sandler, “The Donnelly Project” gives drama students from Scarborough the chance to explore an early Tarragon Theatre script. The Tarragon Theatre celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, and James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I was first performed there on November 24, 1973.