Archives: Stratford Ontario history

Colours in the Dark premiere July 25, 1967

Colours in the Dark premiere July 25, 1967

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.

Douglas Rain as the Father, Martha Henry as the Mother and Heath Lamberts as the Son in the 1967 production of Colours in the Dark. Photography by Peter Smith (Courtesy Stratford Festival Archives. Reproduced with permission.)

Barbara Bryne, Douglas Rain and Sandy Webster in Colours in the Dark, 1967
Photography by Peter Smith & Company
(Courtesy Stratford Festival Archives. Reproduced with permission.)

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 Alphabet Players with the marionettes from Apple Butter, Stratford, Ontario, July 1967. James Reaney (centre, seated) is holding some of the Red Riding Hood marionettes. Allan Stratton (far right) is holding Apple Butter, and James Stewart Reaney (second in on the left) is holding Solomon Spoilrod.

 

For more about Colours in the Dark, see “The Music Lesson from Colours in the Dark”, “Colours in the Dark and Mr. Winemeyer”, and the March 2017 production by the King’s Theatrical Society.

For more about James Reaney’s childhood influences, see “James Reaney: Reflections on Food, Shelter, and ‘When the Great Were Small'”.

Grateful thanks to the Stratford Festival Archives for permission to reproduce the photos from the 1967 production of Colours in the Dark, and also to the Canadian Theatre Collection at the University of Guelph Archives for reviews and articles about the play.

Colours in the Dark by James Reaney is available from Talonbooks.

 

 

 

Stratford Literary Walking Tour 2016

Stratford Literary Walking Tour 2016

Come celebrate Stratford Ontario’s literary heritage and take the Stratford Literary Walking Tour — James Reaney’s old high school Stratford Central Secondary School is one of ten stops on the way.

James Reaney was born and raised on a farm three miles east of Stratford in South Easthope Township, and he bicycled to and from high school every day for five years (1939-1944).

Between the highschool & the farmhouse
In the country and the town
It was a world of love and of feeling
Continually floating down
— From James Reaney’s poem “The Bicycle” (1962)

"The Bicycle" illustration by James Reaney from Twelve Letters to A Small Town (1962)

“The Bicycle” illustration by James Reaney from Twelve Letters to A Small Town (1962)

 

For more of James Reaney’s Stratford and Perth County inspired writing, see the links below:

Plays:

 Colours in the Dark (1967)

Short stories:

The Box Social and Other Stories (1996)

Poems:

“The Royal Visit” (1949)

“The Windyard” (1956)

 From Twelve Letters To A Small Town, “The Bicycle” (1962) and “Shakespearean Gardens” (1962)

 “Going for the Mail” (1964)

 “Gifts” (1965)

 “Maps” (2005)

 “Brush Strokes Decorating a Fan” (2005)

 “The Fan” (2005)

 “Elderberry Cottage” (2005)

Perth County history:

 The Story of North Easthope (1982)

August 2010 -- James Reaney's birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario.

August 2010 — James Reaney’s birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario. The farmhouse was built in 1875 and demolished in 2015.

 

Goodbye to the Farm

Goodbye to the Farm

August 2010 -- James Reaney's birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario.

August 2010 — James Reaney’s birthplace and childhood home near Stratford, Ontario.

August 15, 2015 — a sad day — we learned that the old farmhouse where James Reaney was born has been torn down. Our thanks to Laura Cudworth of The Stratford Beacon Herald for covering the story: http://www.stratfordbeaconherald.com/2015/08/22/the-childhood-home-of-renowned-south-easthope-author-james-reaney-has-been-torn-down

Fondly remembered by the Reaney, Cooke, and Chamberlin Franken families, here are photos of the farm as it was. If you remember the farm and have a photo to share, please get in touch.

 

Summer 1937 -- teh reaney farmhouse and the old barnyard (Photo by Elizabeth Crearar Reaney)

Summer 1937 — The Reaney farmhouse and the old barnyard.  The original barn was built in 1869, and the house was built in 1875.

Summer 1937 -- James Reaney's cousin Kathy Smith by the front garden (ECR)

Summer 1937 — James Reaney’s cousin Kathy Smith by the front garden.

ge 4) with his cousins, Elsie, Kathleen, and Mary, Summer 1930 near Stratford, Ontario.

Elsie, Kathleen, and Mary Smith with their cousin James Reaney (age 4) at the farm, Summer 1930.

James Reaney in the garden at the farm, July 1985 (Photo by Wilma McCaig).

James Reaney in the garden at the farm, July 1985. (Photo by Wilma McCaig)

 

James Reaney Memorial Lecture October 19 in Stratford

Join us on Sunday, October 19 at 2:30 pm at The Atrium (behind Café Ten) in Stratford, Ontario, for a talk about graphic design in James Reaney’s work by publisher Tim Inkster.

Tim Inkster is particularly intrigued by the excellence of the design in James Reaney’s first book, The Red Heart (1949), one of the nine titles in McClelland & Stewart’s Indian File series (1948-1958) and designed by Paul Arthur (1924-2001).

Cover and title page from James Reaney's The Red Heart (1949).

Cover and title page from James Reaney’s The Red Heart (1949). The Red Heart was the third title in McClelland & Stewart’s Indian File poetry series.

Café Ten is located at

 10 Downie Street,

 Stratford, Ontario

 N5A 7K4

Tel: (519) 508-2233

cafeten02

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.

 

“Gifts” by James Reaney

Gifts

Existence gives to me
What does he give to thee?

He gives to me:  a pebble
He gives to me:  a dewdrop
He gives to me:  a piece of string
He gives to me:  a straw

Pebble  dewdrop  piece of string  straw

The pebble is a huge dark hill I must climb
The dewdrop’s a great storm lake you must cross
The string was a road he could not find
The straw will be a sign whose meaning they forget

Hill  lake  road   sign

What was it that changed the scene
So desert fades into meadows green?

The answer is that they met a Tiger
The answer is that he met a Balloon,
A Prostitute of Snow, A Gorgeous Salesman
As well as a company of others such as
Sly Tod, Reverend Jones, Kitty Cradle and so on

Who was the Tiger?  Christ
Who was the Balloon?  Buddha
Emily Bronte and the Emperor Solomon
Who sang of his foot in the doorway.
All these met him. They were hopeful and faithful.

Now the mountain becomes  a pebble in my hand
The lake calms down   to a dewdrop in a flower
The weary road  is a string around your wrist
The mysterious sign  is a straw that whistles “Home”

Pebble  dewdrop  piece of string  straw

James Reaney, 1965

From Poems by James Reaney, New Press, 1972. “Gifts” also appears in James Reaney’s  play Colours in the Dark, which premiered at the Stratford Festival in 1967.

James Reaney (age 4) with his cousins, Elsie, Kathleen, and Mary, Summer 1930 near Stratford, Ontario.

James Reaney (far right) with his cousins, Elsie, Kathleen, and Mary, Summer 1930 near Stratford, Ontario.

James Reaney feeding the chickens (age 5) with his cousins Mary and Elsie (1931)

James Reaney feeding the chickens (age 5) with his cousins Mary and Elsie (1931)

 

James Reaney's childhood home near Stratford, Ontario

James Reaney’s childhood home near Stratford, Ontario

Alice Through the Looking-Glass at Stratford May 31 to October 12

James Reaney’s thoughts on putting on your own version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass:

Is There Life After Alice? That is, after you’ve seen the show, what do you do when you get home? … Once when I was eight, I had a parallel experience to the one you may have just had, of watching a professional production, authentically acted with exuberance and supported by sophisticated design and fabulous illusions and compelling direction. My theatrical experience wasn’t a play though. In those days, Stratford was not as lucky as it is nowadays, but what it was was my very first circus — Ringling Brothers — an absolutely enthralling show, unforgettably enchanting. The only reaction you could have was to go home and put on your own circus, in this case with my cousins and whatever the farm could muster. Cows as elephants? Of course, you couldn’t rival the production you had just seen, but what you could do was with your own simplicity rival its feeling, and the attempt turned me into an artist. I don’t see this as an improbable effect of the show you have just seen and I hope that the various first steps I have described in paralleling its effects and impacts may lead some of you to a lasting love of theatre and art…

—From Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass: Adapted for the stage by James Reaney, pages 133 and 141.

James Reaney leading an Alice workshop at Stratford Central Secondary School (Stratford Collegiate) in 1994. Photo by Scott Wishart, Stratford Beacon Herald.

James Reaney leading an Alice workshop at Stratford Central Secondary School (Stratford Collegiate) in 1994. Photo by Scott Wishart, Stratford Beacon Herald.

Jillian Keiley’s new production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass continues this summer at the Stratford Festival, May 31 to October 12. To buy tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca

Trish  Lindström as Alice in "Alice Through the Looking-Glass", May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

Trish Lindström as Alice in “Alice Through the Looking-Glass”, May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

"Alice's Dinner Party" scene from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Avon Thetare, Stratford, Ontario 2014. Photo courtesy The Stratford Festival.

“Alice’s Dinner Party” scene from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Avon Thetare, Stratford, Ontario 2014. Photo courtesy The Stratford Festival.

 

Win a copy of Alice Through the Looking-Glass!

To celebrate the new Stratford Festival production of James Reaney’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass, the Porcupine’s Quill is offering a chance to win a free copy of the book!

ATTLGcover

Illustration by James Reaney, 1994 (page 15)

Illustration by James Reaney, 1994 (page 15)

 

Jillian Keiley’s new production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass continues this summer at the Stratford Festival, May 31 to October 12. To buy tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca

 

Trish Lindstrõm as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, May 2014; Ruby Joy is the Alice Double. Photo by Cylia Von Tiedemann.

Trish Lindstrom as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, May 2014 (Ruby Joy is the Alice Double). Photo by Cylia Von Tiedemann.

"Alice's Dinner Party" scene from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Avon Thetare, Stratford, Ontario 2014. Photo courtesy The Stratford Festival.

“Alice’s Dinner Party” scene from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ontario 2014. Photo courtesy The Stratford Festival.

 

Alice Through the Looking-Glass opens on May 31st

Previews for the new production of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass, adapted for the stage by James Reaney, began earlier this month at the Stratford Festival. Director Jillian Keiley and designer Bretta Gerecke promise a lavish, child-inspired production:

“As children take inspiration from their own lives, Bretta and I have planned a world as created by the child Alice – full of bicycles and toy wagons, kites and chessboards,” says Ms Keiley. “But since this world is through the looking-glass, bicycles have giant trees growing out of the handlebars, red toy wagons inspire a flotilla for the Queen’s entrance, and the kings and queens of chessboards join all the characters from Alice’s mounds of books. Our goal is to tap into that wonderful world of seven-year-olds, where anything is not only possible but likely, and the only thing you can reasonably expect is the unexpected.”

The show runs May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario. For tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca

For a tantalizing glimpse of the production, see the “Alice Through the Looking-Glass” preview on YouTube.

Update June 2: What reviewers are saying: “Lufrednow. Or, from the other side of the looking glass: wonderful.”Laura Cudworth in The Beacon Herald
“This smashing production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass truly deserves it. If you don’t know a child, rent one for the afternoon and go see this show.” — Richard Ouzounian, The Toronto Star

For more about the Alice opening show, see JBNBlog.

 

Trish Lindström as Alice in "Alice Through the Looking-Glass", May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

Trish Lindström as Alice in “Alice Through the Looking-Glass,” May 31 to October 12 at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

 

Cynthia Dale as The Red Queen in "Alice Through the Looking-Glass", May 31 to October 12, 2014

Cynthia Dale as The Red Queen in “Alice Through the Looking-Glass,” May 31 to October 12, 2014

Flower from Alice Through the Looking-glass, April 5, 2014. Courtesy Stratford Beacon Herald.

Flower from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, April 5, 2014. Courtesy Stratford Beacon Herald.

“Alice” events at the Stratford Festival Forum

Several Forum events and activities offer a chance to explore Alice Through the Looking-Glass, including Alice Adventure Lunches, a themed meal and activity to ignite your child’s imagination before the magic unfolds on stage; Adapting Alice, a panel discussion including Jillian Keiley and Peter Hinton, playwright for the Shaw Festival; and Acting Up: Alice, a drama workshop in which 8- to 10-year-olds use costumes to explore scenes and characters from the play.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass is a Schulich Children’s Play presentation and produced in association with Canada’s National Arts Centre.

At the May 5, 2014 preview performance of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Chris Spaleta from Seaforth, Ontario was presented with a lifetime pass for two for being the Stratford Festival’s 26 millionth patron! 

May 5, 2014: Chris Spaleta with the cast of Alice Through the Looking-Glass.

May 5, 2014: Chris Spaleta with the cast of Alice Through the Looking-Glass. Photo courtesy Stratford Beacon Herald.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass at Stratford Festival May 31 to October 12

This spring the Stratford Festival will present James Reaney’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass at the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.

Alice will be directed by Jillian Keiley, an award-winning director from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Cast members include Trish Lindström as Alice, Cynthia Dale as the Red Queen, Dion Johnstone as the White King, Tom McCamus as the March Hare, and Brian Tree as Humpty Dumpty.

To purchase tickets, call 1-800-567-1600 or order online here.

Dion Johnstone, Trish Lindstrom, and Cynthia Dale in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, May 31- October 12, 2014 in Stratford, Ontario.

Dion Johnstone, Trish Lindstrom, and Cynthia Dale in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, May 31- October 12, 2014 in Stratford, Ontario.

 

Notes on James Reaney’s adaptation

In 1991, David William, then Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, commissioned James Reaney to adapt Alice Through the Looking-Glass for the stage.  James Reaney recalls the many months writing and rewriting the play and attending workshops:

“So, as the preparatory workshop with the Young Company started in the fall of 1992, my adaptation had pretty well shaken down into its present shape except that a great deal of my commentary and suggestions were kept as part of the rehearsed reading shown to Richard Monette and David William and invited guests so that I myself actually read my mental landscapes of Looking-glass in fear and trembling since the many rewrites and keeping this and dropping that produced landmines for cues […]

Mr Monette took to the story as played that night in late October and also to its trajectory away from the Third Stage to the Avon with a cast [that included] Douglas Rain as Humpty and Barbara Bryne as the White Queen, both actors who had in 1967 appeared in my first Stratford play, Colours in the Dark.”

—From the Foreword to Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass: adapted for the stage by James Reaney, pages 12-14, The Porcupine’s Quill, 1994.

James Reaney’s adaptation of Alice Through the Looking-Glass premiered at the Stratford Festival in 1994 and was revived in 1996. The play is available in Reaney Days in the West Room: Plays of James Reaney, David Ferry, ed., Playwrights Canada Press, 2008.

Illustration by James Reaney, 1994. "I am very proud to have helped with such a delightful show with designers, magician, composer, actors, director, and backstage staff who have seen to it that Carroll's magic text and verbal wit is made all the more powerful." James Reaney, Foreword, 1994, page 15.

Illustration by James Reaney, 1994. “I am very proud to have helped with such a delightful show with designers, magician, composer, actors, director, and backstage staff who have seen to it that Carroll’s magic text and verbal wit is made all the more powerful.” James Reaney, Foreword, 1994, page 15.

James Reaney’s “Maps” from Souwesto Home

Maps

To go where I first saw maps
Is almost too simple perhaps.
Find Pork Street or Hessestrasse
And come up McKone’s sideroad past Cardwell’s
Till you hit Elmhurst School
Where time is reckoned by a Pequenaut clock
Manufactured in Kitchener, alias Berlin.
And space is taught by gray green windows
Unrolled from their special “map” cupboard
And hung upon the wall with us looking up
At continents Mercatorized,
Anything British vermilionized,
With funny stripes for Palestine
And Egypt, Iraq, Persia and Danzig,
Places only half imperialized,
Or spheres of influence;
However, just over the map cupboard,
Was a wall of continuous windows
That contained my uncle’s fields,
When school was over
Basically my way home landscape.
It was a map too!
Its scale was an inch to an inch,
A mile to a mile.
There was no map to guide me home
Save this one and a path.
Teaching itself, white with snow, gray sky,
Blurred tree sticks, ditch, swamp,
Forest, meadow, yard, home.
Inside my school — the whole world
In a round globe, or flat maps;
Outside our school — a part of the world
Too big to be taught.

James Reaney, 2005

 “Maps” is from Souwesto Home, a collection of James Reaney’s poems from 2005 and published by Brick Books. Listen to Jeff Culbert perform “Maps” here.

The Elmhurst School mentioned in “Maps” was a one-room schoolhouse where James Reaney attended elementary school from 1932-1939. Elmhurst School was northeast of Stratford, Ontario, and about one mile from the farm where James Reaney grew up. In his autobiography (1992), James Reaney describes his walk to school:

“To go to school, I left the house by its formal front door, not much used, going by a hall dresser whose combination chest with seat-lid was filled with powerfully sweet-smelling grass seed. The way to public school lay first through the relic of a Victorian dooryard, uncut locust hedge reaching up farther every year, four apple trees shaded by big maples where once, very early (1870) had been a garden. Then, the gables of the house still visible behind me, a field, the edge of a bush [woods] and swamp, Cardwell’s flats — difficult to cross with high water after floods — and a ditch across which my father had sort of established a floating, single log bridge.”

(This excerpt is from James Crerar Reaney, Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 15, page 297, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, 1992.)

James Reaney off to Elmhurst School in 1936

James Reaney off to Elmhurst School in 1936

 

Pupils of Elmhurst School in 1936, near Stratford, Ontario. Miss Helen Coveney is the teacher; James Reaney (age 10) is in the top row, third from the left.

The pupils of Elmhurst School with their teacher, Miss Helen Coveney, in 1936. James Reaney (age 10) is in the top row, third from the left.

 

 

© 2017 James Reaney