Archives: Canadian drama

James Reaney Memorial Lecture on October 21 in Stratford

Join us on Sunday, October 21 at 3:00 pm at The Stratford Public Library Auditorium in Stratford, Ontario, for a talk by Jean McKay, James Reaney’s research assistant on several projects, including The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta. Jean will also share her memories as a student and workshop participant in James Reaney’s play Wacousta.

The annual lecture is a project developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford, and features a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James Reaney and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.

The Stratford Public Library is located at

19 St. Andrew Street,

Stratford, Ontario

N5A 1A2.

Alphabet Number 11 and Poems by John Hirsch

From Alphabet Issue 11 (1966), here is John Hirsch’s poem “My Grandfather”:

My Grandfather

Old men love the sun.
My Grandfather, eighty four,
in black bowler,
black overcoat,
in the same chair
through Spring, Summer and Fall
always against the same white-washed wall
sat soaking up the sun.
Hands spread on his knees—
Skin like dried guts
cracked with veins like the indigo ink
he dipped his pen in to write
in velvet covered, silver-locked ledgers.

Dozing in the sun
his skin drew the heat
till he seemed to glow
like a black swathed mummy
of a gold-leafed Pharaoh.

John Hirsch, 1966


Cover banner for Alphabet Issue 11, 1966

John Hirsch (1930-1989) lost his family in the Holocaust and came to Winnipeg, Canada as a war orphan in 1947. With the help of his foster family, he pursued his love of the theatre and became one of Canada’s most renowned directors. John Hirsch directed James Reaney’s play Names and Nicknames at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg in October, 1963.

Earlier this summer at the Stratford Festival, Alon Nashman performed his one-man play Hirsch, a tribute to this inspiring director. For more about John Hirsch, see A Fiery Soul: The Life and Theatrical Times of John Hirsch, by Fraidie Martz and Andrew Wilson.

Ranjana Harish, Director of the Reaney Canadian Centre, visits London, Ontario

On May 25-28, we were pleased to welcome Dr. Ranjana Harish, the Director of the Reaney Canadian Centre at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad, India. Dr. Harish was happy to see London, Ontario and visit the Reaney family home, and also see the farm where James Reaney grew up near Stratford, Ontario.

May 26, 2012: James Stewart Reaney with Dr. Ranjana Harish at the Reaney family home in London, Ontario


May 28, 2012: James Stewart Reaney and Dr. Ranjana Harish visit James Reaney’s childhood home near Stratford, Ontario

Before her visit to London, Dr. Harish attended the International Council for Canadian Studies Biennial Conference in Ottawa on May 22-24, where she presented her paper “Linguistic Crossings in the Chase of a Rainbow: Gujarati Immigrants in Canada.” The theme of the conference this year was Cultural Challenges of Migration in Canada.  We wish Dr. Harish continued success in all her endeavours, and hope she’ll come back to explore Canada soon.

May 28, 2012: Dr. Harish at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Stratford, Ontario

Taptoo! in Toronto and John Beckwith’s new memoir

Thank you and congratulations to all the fine musicians and singers who performed Taptoo! so splendidly last month at the Jane Mallett Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto.  Your spirited performances brought the characters to life.

We especially liked young Daniel Bedrossian as Seth Jr. and Teddy Perdikoulias as Ebenezer Jr., and Lise Maher as Mrs. Jarvis and Allison Angelo as Atahentsic were wonderful in Act II. We loved Todd Delaney as Major John Graves Simcoe and Robert Longo as Colonel “Mad Anthony” Wayne.

Thank you, Larry Beckwith, for conducting and directing the orchestra and singers so well. And thank you, Guillermo Silva-Marin, General Director of Toronto Operetta Theatre, for making the premiere of John Beckwith and James Reaney’s work possible. We wish you every success in the future.

John Beckwith, composer, and his son Larry Beckwith, Conductor and Chorus Director at Taptoo!, February 25, 2012.


The Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto, February 25, 2012

James Reaney and John Beckwith developed Taptoo! in 1994, when it had a workshop reading at Historic Fort York. Before this professional production (February 24-26, 2012), there were two presentations of Taptoo! by the students of McGill University (1999) and by the opera division of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music (2003).

In his new memoir, Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer John Beckwith recalls his life as a composer, including his collaborations with James Reaney. The book is available from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

Taptoo! premiere in Toronto on February 24-26

On February 24-26 next month in Toronto, the Toronto Operetta Theatre will present the premiere of Taptoo!, an opera in two acts, libretto by James Reaney and music by John Beckwith.

The opera is based on events surrounding the founding of the town of York, Upper Canada (now Toronto), roughly from 1780-1810. Using real historical characters like Major John Graves Simcoe as well as imaginary ones, the story tells how a Quaker family, the Harples, flee America to Canada to escape mob violence:

From Scene 1:

MOB: Take off your hat
To the emblem of our state,
Our state, our state!

TWO VOICES:  (shouting) The rattlesnake!

JESSE: Friends, I will
Take off my hat
To neither king nor republic
Nor a flag, nor a …

MOB: You don’t want freedom?

JESSE: Yes. Freedom from all oppressors
Kings or — mobs like yourselves!

MOB: (shouting in unison)
Take off your hat!

(Jesse does not move. Pause, then sudden quick action as they seize him.)

MOB: Tar and feather him!
Seize that tub,
Burn that little flag there!

In a recent article about his collaboration with James Reaney, John Beckwith describes the music of Taptoo! “as the modern equivalent of a ballad opera, in which scraps of familiar songs and dances would now and then drift in to the musical score. I included about 20 such musical references — hymn tunes, popular sentimental or patriotic songs, dances, marches and, of course, historical military music.”*

Taptoo! will be led by Larry Beckwith, Conductor, and Guillermo Silva-Marin is the Stage Director. Featured performers are Robert Longo,Michael Barrett, Todd Delaney, Sarah Hicks, and Mark Petracchi.

When: February 24 and 25 at 8 pm; February 26 at 2 pm

Where: Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre, 27 Front Street East Toronto, M5E 1B4

Order your tickets here from the St. Lawrence Centre box office, or

by phone: (416) 366-7723 or 1-800-708-6754

See you there!

Old Fort York at the foot of Bathurst Street in 1793

The full libretto for James Reaney’s Taptoo! is available in Scripts: Librettos for Operas and Other Musical Works, published by Coach House Books.

*John Beckwith, “Portrait of a partnership,” Opera Canada, Fall 2011, page 32.

Bravo for “Crazy to Kill”

Congratulations to the singers and musicians who performed James Reaney and John Beckwith’s opera “Crazy to Kill” last weekend in Toronto, November 11-12, a Toronto Masque Theatre production. Here’s a rave review from some members of your enthusiastic audience:

We thought the production was fantastic! The opera singers can truly add “puppeteers” to their CV’s.

Loved the way everyone moved about the stage — when Agatha slowly drifted past us, it made us part of the story.  A great set, with many levels (“rings”).

Loved the opening sewing scene when Agatha mimed the old treadle — and the sound effect, a great idea! Also loved her expressive face peering through the bed pillow — another great idea.
The two musicians, Greg Oh (piano) and Ed Reifel (percussion), sounded like a full orchestra. We loved how they were in costume and part of the story!

You must all be exhausted, but also pleased that it was such a success. Jamie would have been delighted.

Thank you again,
Susan, James, and Elizabeth

Two of the puppets from “Crazy to Kill.” The original puppets were designed and made by Anna Wagner Ott in 1989, and  were refurbished by Ann and David Powell in 2011.

Crazy to Kill: Miss Scarth

Tim O’Connor, the red-haired asylum guard, was operated by Brendan Wall. Mezzo soprano Kimberly Barber, who played Agatha, operated Miss Scarth.

Costume designer Sue LePage chats with John Beckwith after the show, November 12, 2011

Pre-show talk with James Stewart Reaney, Larry Beckwith, and John Beckwith

Crazy to Kill In Toronto, November 11-12

This month Toronto Masque Theatre presents James Reaney and John Beckwith’s opera Crazy to Kill, which was first performed in 1989.

Based on Ann Cardwell’s 1941 mystery novel about a series of murders in a mental asylum, the opera has 22 roles and requires three singers, two actors, and 18 puppets. In this production, David Ferry directs mezzo-soprano Kimberly Barber as Agatha, soprano Shannon Mercer as Mme. Dupont, Doug MacNaughton as Detective Fry, and actors Ingrid Doucet and Brendan Wall.

Crazy to Kill

Friday, Nov. 11 and Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 at 8:00 p.m.

Pre-show chat with Artistic Director Larry Beckwith: 7:15 p.m.

Enwave Theatre
231 Queen’s Quay West

Tickets: $40 regular/$33 senior/$20 under 30

You can order tickets online from Toronto Masque Theatre. See you there!

Puppets from Crazy to Kill



James Reaney Memorial Lecture hosted by Poetry Stratford

Thank you all for coming to the lecture on Sunday afternoon to hear composer Peter Denny talk about his collaboration with James Reaney on Terrible Swift Sword, an experimental modern opera. Denny played recordings of some of the music, which requires singer-actors who can improvise melodies to go with Reaney’s words.

Marian Johnson, producer and stage manager of the play, also spoke about her memories of the 1991 week-long workshop production. Actors Dale Bell and Joanne Lubansky read scenes from the play between General Beauregard and Letitia Beauregard.

A big thank you to Charles Maidment, who has posted a video recording on

Our thanks also to the organizers of the lecture at the Stratford Public Library, Charles Mountford, Anne Marie Heckman, and Sam Coghlan.


James Reaney Memorial Lecture on October 16 in Stratford

Join us on Sunday, October 16 at 2:30 pm at The Stratford Public Library Auditorium in Stratford, Ontario, for a talk by composer Peter Denny at the second annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture. Denny, a long-time friend, will speak about his collaboration with James Reaney on Terrible Swift Sword, an experimental modern opera.

James Reaney presented Terrible Swift Sword in a 1991 workshop at the Blyth Festival. The story, set in the defeated South at the end of the American Civil War, parallels the story of King Saul and David. Like the story, the music is also layered, built around a community production of Handel’s oratorio Saul.

In his lecture, Peter Denny will talk about the creative elements behind the 1991 performance of Terrible Swift Sword. He will play recordings of some of the music, and read from the script and from the Biblical source.

The annual lecture is a project developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford, and features a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James Reaney and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.

The Stratford Public Library is located at

19 St. Andrew Street,

Stratford, Ontario

N5A 1A2.

David Ferry: Winner of the 2011 Barbara Hamilton Award

Congratulations to actor David Ferry, who wrote to us earlier this month to share this good news:

June 7/11

I wanted to let you know that today I was honoured with the 2011 Barbara Hamilton Award for excellence in the performing arts. This is one of the five special Dora Mavor Moore awards presented annually at the announcement of the DORA nominations. I am thrilled to be selected by the jury for this honour and humbled to join the extraordinary group of past recipients, all of whom I know or knew and have worked with (as I did with Barbara Hamilton) a true sign of aging I think.

I have been blessed in the past with eight DORA nominations and have won DORAs for Best Actor, Best Director, and Lighting Design. And doubly fortunate, I was nominated again for Best Actor for my performance in “Blasted” last fall. My wife Kyra Harper was nominated as best actress for her fine work in “Vincent River,” which makes me more happy than does my own fortune.

And yesterday I was awarded the Best Actor in the inaugural Toronto Theatre Critics’ Awards for “Blasted.” So thrice blessed.

Congratulations, David, and best wishes for continuing success in the years to come!

David Ferry was one of the original cast members of James Reaney’s The Donnellys Part I, Sticks and Stones, which was first performed at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, Ontario on November 24, 1973. Here are fellow actors Jerry Franken and David Ferry together in the poster from the Tarragon production.

Jerry Franken and David Ferry in The Donnellys

David Ferry and Jerry Franken, May 30, 2011 in Stratford, Ontario

David Ferry has also recently edited a collection of plays by James Reaney for Playwrights Canada Press: Reaney Days in the West Room: Plays of James Reaney. David’s book includes seven of James Reaney’s plays: The Killdeer, Names and Nicknames, Listen to the Wind, The St.Nicholas Hotel, Gyroscope, Alice Through the Looking-Glass, and Zamorna!

© 2017 James Reaney