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.
July 25, 1967 — Fifty years ago today, James Reaney’s play Colours in the Dark had its first performance at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, part of the Stratford Festival‘s 15th season. Described in the press as a “play box of colours and fantasies”, Colours in the Dark won favourable reviews and enjoyed a standing ovation on its opening night.
Directed by John Hirsch, the actors were Sandy Webster, Barbara Bryne, Douglas Rain, Martha Henry, Heath Lamberts, and Mary Hitch along with 12 Stratford children and four singers. Eoin Sprott designed the projected images used to create the set, and Alan Laing wrote and performed the music.
Carol Johnson of the Stratford Beacon Herald interviewed Elizabeth Cooke, James Reaney’s mother, and Wilma McCaig, his sister, about the play and about the notion that the play is like a “play box” from his past and the past of the Stratford District:
“There’s a big chest upstairs that comes from Ireland. It has his first manuscripts and his first puppets in it. I don’t know if that’s what he calls his play box.
He didn’t have measles as a child. The experience in the play was like my experience with measles, except I didn’t see colours in the dark. I kept books under my pillow… I read when I wasn’t supposed to.
He used to listen to the radio all the time. Little Orphan Annie, that’s in the play, was one of his favourite programs… the Singing Lady, that was another one. And one early space program that used to make the windows shake.
[…] Flying kites, parades, puppets, glass Easter eggs, drawings, bicycles, Sunday School pictures — all of the things his mother and sister spoke of in James Reaney’s past, they placed in his work today, most in Colours in the Dark.
Jamie wasn’t a religious boy. He’d sit in church in one of the back pews. Someone told me once, there was Jamie reading while the minister was preaching.
He’s always painted. You’d call him for dinner and he’d be upstairs painting water colour portraits on the whitewash.
He’s made puppets since high school. In Red Riding Hood he was the wolf, a plastic bag, who eats the grandmother, who’s a teapot.
James Reaney writes about the things he knows from his childhood, the way he knows them as a man.”
[Source: Excerpted from Carol Johnson’s article “James Reaney’s ‘play-box’ mother talks about his childhood”, Stratford Beacon Herald, July 28, 1967, page 7.]
Note from Susan Reaney:Elizabeth Cooke (née Crerar) did indeed keep books under her pillow; see “Her reviews were pithy” by James Stewart Reaney in the London Free Press.
Allan Stratton tells us that James Reaney’s marionette plays Apple Butter and an adaptation of Red Riding Hood were performed July 3-15, 1967 at the Stratford Arena before Colours in the Dark opened, so this might be where Elizabeth Cooke had the chance to see them.
The Music Lesson scene in James Reaney’s 1967 play Colours in the Dark (Act II Scene 5) borrows from an earlier poetic cycle about Stratford, Ontario: Twelve Letters to a Small Town (1962).
CBC Radio commissioned Twelve Letters to a Small Town and John Beckwith composed music to accompany the poems. In the Eighth Letter (subtitled “The Music Lesson”), James Reaney pays tribute to his Stratford piano teacher Cora B. Ahrens.
The Eighth Letter “… depicts a piano lesson in which the student, after playing a few exercises and a set piece called ‘The Storm,’ is asked to display his progress on another piece called ‘A Year in the Town,’ by playing each of the four sections (representing the four seasons) first one hand at a time and then with both hands together. Both ‘The Storm’ and ‘A Year in the Town have appropriate spoken texts to which the music corresponds.” [Source: John Beckwith on “James Reaney and Music” November 5, 2016]
5. THE MUSIC LESSON
(The GRANDMOTHER is the music teacher; the FATHER is her pupil.)
TEACHER: That will do for your scales. Now play me your piece. Play me “The Storm.” What shall I set the metronome at?
PUPIL: Set it at summer and pink and white and yellow bricks sunlight with blue sky and white feather dumpling clouds.
The cast enters and assists orally.
A cloud and a cloud and a cloud
Came into the blue afternoon room
A cloud and a cloud and a cloud
And a cloud and a cloud
And a cloud and a cloud
Down down down came the cloudy
With a windowpane shudder
And mirrors for your feet
People running into stores
Darkness in the library
Church is nearer through the rain.
A cloud and a cloud and a cloudy
Came out of the yellow garage
Joseph MacLeod in a many-coloured vest
Danced to the music dying in the west.
This whole piece should have the feeling of yellow and “Chansons sans Paroles” by Mendelssohn.
TEACHER: Why are you looking so sad?
PUPIL: I’ve lost something. I’ve lost a piece of the star Mr. Winemeyer gave me. I was trying to kick it all the way into town and it disappeared in the dirt.
TEACHER: Here – as a reward for playing “The Storm” so well. She hands him the star.
PUPIL: But Miss Miller. How did you get hold of this? It’s my piece of the star… that I lost while kicking it into town. She sits down at the piano and begins to play.
TEACHER: Now here’s the next piece of music I’d like you to learn. She plays him the same piece of music the Hermit played, “On Wings of Song.”
PUPIL: Miss Miller. Tell me the truth. Are you really Mr. Winemeyer in disguise? Are men and women the same? She smiles and continues playing. The light fades. The Wind and the rain doll pass with their branch shadows. The GRANDMOTHER exits. The GRANDFATHER, still playing the Hermit, crawls onstage. The BOYS run over to him.
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:
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.
In his November 5 talk on “James Reaney and Music”, composer John Beckwith recalls their collaboration on a children’s story with symphonic music, All the Bees and All the Keys: “He said he had always wanted to write about a) bees and bee-keeping and b) small-town Ontario marching bands.” Beckwith also mentioned a scene in James Reaney’s play I, The Parade, where a penniless band with no instruments has to perform with dandelion horns.
I, The Parade tells the story of bandmaster and composer Charles F. Thiele (1884-1954), bandmaster of the Waterloo Musical Society (1919-1951) and Father of Canadian Band Music.* Commissioned as part of the City of Waterloo’s 125th anniversary celebrations, the play was presented at the University of Waterloo in November 1982.
In I, The Parade, the penniless dandelion-horn band appears in a story-within-a-story (told by Charles F. Thiele’s mother and father) that hints at some of the history of the Waterloo Band and its rivalry with the Berlin [Kitchener] Band. As John Mellor notes in his memoir about Professor Thiele, “This keen rivalry between the bands of Waterloo and Berlin/Kitchener became so intense that for a long period no Berlin musicians played in the Waterloo band and vice versa.”**
In this scene from Act I, trumpeter Albert Nafzinger is blackballed from joining the Music Society Band because he lives in the rival village. His sister, Gretel, desperate to play in a band but without an instrument, forms a band of her own: “… and they played with the stems of dandelions — which they called dandelion horns […]”
One two three together
Let’s hear it from the drum
Never mind if it’s a rusty kettle
Down the street we come
Down Park Street, down Union Street,
Turning right on King
Up Albert Street, up Margaret
Buzzing like a bumble bee
Our music’s easy come by.
Break your horn, we’ll never mind:
On Park Street &c. A PASSERBY PUTS A PENNY IN THEIR DRUM.
[Angry at not getting into the band, Albert plots his revenge:]
ALBERT: Gretel, how much would you give me for my trumpet.
GRETEL: Albert. (PAUSE) You didn’t get into the village band.
ALBERT: I’ll get them. I’m not getting mad, no I’m getting even. […]
GRETEL: I’d give anything, do anything to have a trumpet that was my own.
ALBERT: Listen – this is what you must do then. First of all I have Sunday morning rights to practise – I can’t quite give it up, but there’s lots of lonely places outside town I can practise. But – cut your hair real short, put on a suit of my clothes and audition for the empty place in the band and. (PAUSE) It’s all yours.
GRETEL: Do you think I’d get in the band?
ALBERT: If you do, I’ll have my revenge on them. But – if they keep you out – I still keep the trumpet.
GRETEL: And my hair grows back and I can wear a dress again. Albert. (PAUSE) Albert, let me play a bit. Please.
HE DANGLES IT OVER HER HEAD, THEN RUNS OFF WITH IT.
Note from Susan Reaney: This scene is excerpted from a draft manuscript version of I, The Parade, which is part of the James Reaney fonds at Western University Archives. The title at the top reads“Sally Trombone”, which is a ragtime-influenced novelty tune from 1917 featuring a “trombone smear” (true glissando), the specialty of composer and bandleaderHenry Fillmore (1881-1956).
* For more about C.F. Thiele, see John Mellor’s book Music in the Park: C.F. Thiele Father of Canadian Band Music (1988), Waterloo, Ontario. ISBN 0-9692301-2-5 ** John Mellor, Music in the Park, page 18.
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.