Re-Generation: A Haliburton Tale

By Michael Clipperton

Theatre is not for the faint of heart. And that’s one of the reasons why I love the theatre. It’s all about the risk.

With that in mind, I began writing a script in 2013 that focused on the history of Canada, as seen through the eyes of a multi-generational family. This eventually became RE-GENERATION: A HALIBURTON TALE. How did it get from A to B? Therein lies the tale.

When this idea first occurred to me I was living and working in Simcoe County, and doing some work with Gaslight Community Theatre in Collingwood. Gaslight produces a highly successful annual theatre tour that incorporates four 20-minute plays in four different locations into an evening of theatre. The tour has a different theme each year. Previous years had focussed on “Hearth and Home,” “The Ship Yards,” and The Great War. In anticipation of the approach of Canada’s 150th Anniversary, I thought it might be interesting to look at the development of Collingwood as seen through the eyes of a multi-generational family over those 150 years.

Fast forward to 2016: I am now retired and living in Haliburton. As I began to acquaint myself with fellow theatre-geeks in the area I found my way to Fay Martin, who has a long-standing interest in place-based historical theatre. She and her husband Michael Fay had produced a number of shows in Haliburton between 2005 and 2011.   Fay and I, along with other like-minded folks including Jenny Reiger, Marla Force, Kate Butler, David McGill and Adele Espina met in early January to discuss the possibility of mounting a production of my script, which was fast-developing into a full-length play.

And we did just that! Each of us took on various responsibilities for the production, including marketing, directing, acting, costumes, props, tickets, programme, ushers/herders, and donations (including insect repellant from the local Home Hardware). Through the generosity of the Haliburton Highlands Museum, we had access to a rehearsal space, and a performance venue (the grounds of the Museum). In addition, the Museum agreed to include our production in all of their marketing materials.

We gave ourselves a name: RURAL ROGUES PRODUCTIONS, and hired a young graphic designer to create a logo and a poster.

Through the generosity of neighbouring community theatre companies like Highlands Little Theatre and Mariposa Arts Theatre we had access to a wealth of costumes and props. No set pieces were necessary other than a few chairs and tables, since we used the historic buildings on the Museum grounds as the back-drop to each scene.

Each scene was about 20 minutes in length, and set every 50 years apart: 1867, 1917, 1967 and 2017. Historical characters from each time period set the scene and provided the details of what had gone on over the intervening 50 years. A cast of 8 played all of the roles. Fast costumes changes were achieved during the transitions, while three local musicians led the audience to each new location.

We estimated that we would be able accommodate a maximum of 40 people, and that was almost exactly the number who attended each of the two performances. Our biggest concern was the weather: Fortunately the weekend of July 29/30 was one of the best of the entire summer, with evening temperatures in the low 20’s, and day-time highs in the low 30’s. Nary a cloud showed its face – and the mosquitoes stayed away.

We set a budget of about $2500.00 for the production. Because so many items were donated, loaned (or begged, borrowed and stolen), our actual expenses were only about $500.00. This was an unexpected and happy result that left us with some dollars in the bank. We also joined the Haliburton County Community Co-op, which allowed us to take advantage of their book-keeping services and liability insurance protection, two very important items that new organizations often overlook.

Of course there were challenges. As the playwright, completing the script prior to rehearsals was uppermost in my mind. After burning some midnight oil that task was accomplished. As the director, the biggest challenge was assembling a full cast. Some actors don’t want to work in the summer because they have full-time jobs and summer time is sacred for vacation and family-time. Or they’re already in a show, or they live too far away, etc. But after much searching solutions were found – I wound up taking on two of the small roles in the show. And there were the usual challenges that we face in any theatrical production: memorizing lines, costume fittings, wig fittings, assembling props, fast costume changes, mosquitoes, rain, etc., etc., etc.

As I said, theatre is not for the faint of heart – and it’s all about the risk. Will people show up? Will they buy tickets? Will the weather cooperate? Will the actors know their lines? Will the costumes fit? Will the wigs retain their look? Will we break even? The answer to all of these questions (and more) was a resounding YES!!!

None of this would have happened without the enthusiasm and the hard work of my fellow-Rogues, and without the various partnerships that were developed along the way. Theatre is a team sport, and we had a great team.

What is next for Rural Rogues? We are discussing several possibilities, including a playwriting workshop, play readings, partnerships with other organizations in the Highlands, and others. Where will it all lead? Who knows?

And that’s the fun of it… We never really know.

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