The curtains rose for the first time at the Highland Arts Theatre just one short year ago with a return of The Wakowski Brothers: A Cape Breton Vaudeville. In the short time since then, artistic director Wesley Colford has found success with the almost rapid-fire shows that the theatre has produced. Now a theatrical mainstay in the CBRM, the HAT is ready to open on its first full summer season of plays with four very different stories of life in Cape Breton.
The official season consists of three plays: Mature Young Adults by Wesley J. Colford on Friday evenings, No Great Mischief by David S. Young (originally from the novel by Alistair MacLeod) on Saturday evenings, and The True Meaning of Cape Breton by yours truly on Sunday evenings. After the wild success of Colford’s Heart of Steel last March, the show is also being given an encore run each Thursday evening.
Colford’s idea of making a festival for, about, and by Cape Bretoners is a fresh approach to the summer theatre season and one that he hopes will continue the success of the relatively new theatre.
“It’s always remarkable to me that these are the stories of people who really existed and lived on this land, only a couple of generations ago,” Colford says of his inspirations of creating and producing Heart of Steel. “It’s a tribute to the talent we have on this island, and the many men and women who worked at the Steel Plant and have never had their story told.”
Todd Hiscock, director of No Great Mischief, has similar ideas with his production. “It is a great Cape Breton story. I want to tell Cape Breton stories through theatre.”
Covering the history of the island from its first discovery up to modern day is quite the feat for audiences to take in, but each play promises that, while the scale might be grand, the characters are relatable. Anna Spencer, director of Mature Young Adults says, “The characters, plot, and dialogue are so relatable that you can’t help but connect with it and let it resonate in you. For anyone who has ever been in a relationship, you can’t help but see yourself or your significant other through the characters of Jonathan and Caitlyn. I believe that the audience will know, understand, and relate to these characters more than they ever have with other plays.”
That is not to say that the season will not have its moments of spectacle. Over the past twelve months at the HAT, audiences have marvelled at the sights and sounds of full orchestras, huge dance numbers, and fantastic visuals that had been somewhat lacking in local productions. “There’s a lot of homage in this story which is a lot of fun to translate into visuals,” says Colford who is playing triple duty this summer as he also directs The True Meaning of Cape Breton. “It’s very meta and I’ve taken that to an extreme – audience members who have seen many of our HAT productions will catch more than a couple Easter eggs and inside winks.”
The season boasts a collective cast of dozens of well-known talented local actors (including Margaret MacPherson, Sam White, Hilary Scott, Bhreagh MacNeil, Jonathan Lewis, Danny MacNeil, Jenna Lahey, Ken Chisholm, Josie Sobol, and many more), musicians (including Barb Stetter, Alicia Penney, Matthew Earhart, and many more) and some of the best production teams this island has to offer (including Mary-Jean Doyle, Ida Steeves, Cynthia Vokey, Jill Taylor, and countless others who make all the magic happen), and even a puppet show! With a talent pool this large and dedicated, it’s easy to see why such a festival of local talent is so necessary to the growth of not just our theatre community, but our community in general.
Just in case all of this has not whet your appetite completely for the upcoming season, I’ve asked each director to give a brief explanation of their plays to give potential audiences the best interpretation of the shows.
“The year is 1943. The Sydney Steel Plant is in full swing, providing half of Canada’s steel for the war efforts, but WW2 is far from over. The boys are overseas, and it’s up to Cape Breton’s female force to hold the fort! Featuring a live band, local talent, and an original score that mixes traditional Cape Breton folk with ’40’s swing and boogie woogie, Heart of Steel is sure to steal your heart!”
“Mature Young Adults has had a long production history performing in various locations such as Toronto and Halifax. However, this is the first time it is being performed in Cape Breton, where it is set. The play follows the relationship of two young teenagers Jonathan and Caityln. It takes place over a number of years as a relationship forbidden by their parents blossoms against all odds and grows into something that will touch each member of the audience.”
“The act of remembering is what begins the play and is at the heart of No Great Mischief. Every time the phrase “do you remember…” is evoked, another piece of the story of the Clan MacDonald is told. Through the sometimes-unwilling memory of Alexander MacDonald we learn the long history not only the MacDonalds but also the history of Cape Breton Island.”
“Frustrated by the overwhelming confusion of what people think of Cape Breton, Ryan, with the help of some friends, ghosts, and AHL superstars, must find out what home really means to him. Will he, like so many others, decide to leave the island he has (sort of) known his whole life, or will he stay once he has discovered The True Meaning of Cape Breton?”
Tickets for the HAT Summer Season are available at the HAT box office (40 Bentinck St.) or at their website (highlandartstheatre.com). Tickets can be purchased individually or as part of a season package. The season opens this coming Thursday (July 2) and runs each Wednesday to Sunday until ending on August 2.