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.

The Culture of Community: Rebecca attends CAPACOA’s annual conference

I’m sure I’m not alone in my belief that sometimes the best way to learn is by jumping in. One week after joining the SPARC team I had the opportunity to attend CAPACOA –(Canadian Arts Presenting Association / l’Association Canadienne des organisms artistiques)’s annual conference on behalf of our organization…and jump in is exactly what I did.

CAPACOA serves the performing arts touring and presenting community – artists, agents, managers, venues, networks of presenters – and is focused on integrating the performing arts into the lives of all Canadians, as well as improving communication and understanding between presenters across the country. They provide many useful toolkits for presenters, host networking opportunities, and  conduct vital research on, and advocate for, the importance of the performing arts. If you attended our first symposium in 2014, you may remember Inga Petri’s keynote address, which included references to The Value of Presenting – a study commissioned by CAPACOA that sought to identify the benefits of performing arts presentation in communities and society at large.

The theme of this year’s conference was “The Culture of Community”. I attended a number of interesting workshops focused on building connections between artists and presenters; between artists and technology; and between artists and the community. I’d like to share some highlights and a few links you may want to check out…

Some of you may already be familiar with FIXT POINT Theatre and their Tale of a Town project – I know their “storymobile” visited our friends in Cobalt and Temiskaming Shores this past summer. For three years the Tale of a Town team has been touring Canada – and has successfully visited every province and territory! They’ve been gathering stories about cities’ and towns’ main streets, and using these stories to inspire performance installations created in collaboration with local artists for site-specific downtown locations. They focus on preserving local heritage and promoting neighbourhood culture – merging the performing arts and community engagement seamlessly. You can check out the work they’ve done by watching their “Main Street Ontario” series, or listening to some of the interviews collected online.

Representatives from the National Film Board’s Interactive Studio and the Society for Arts and Technologies’ Metalab presented tips for digital integration into performance projects, collaboration between artists and technicians, and navigating new kinds of performer/audience relationships. They talked about some really cool projects including the Compassion Machine, which explored the effects of surveillance in a public place, and Journal of Insomnia, which used a shared experience to connect people from across the globe and allowed them to create a piece of art, online, together. The NFB is currently connecting artists looking to explore a question through technology with tech companies with the hardware needed to do so. The aim? Getting technology into the hands of artists who may not have access to it otherwise.

Finally, I attended a session about community engagement and community-engaged arts practice by presenters from Arts Engage Canada and Art Bridges. If you’re interested in community-engaged work, Arts Engage is a fantastic resource. They have lots of straightforward guides and toolkits about the practice of engaging community members in your work that would be helpful to have at hand when envisioning a new initiative, or evaluating an existing one. Art Bridges’ site functions more like a hub – similar to the network hub SPARC is building – and I will be reaching out to them in the new year to see if we can help each other in our aims to connect and spark more dialogue.

This offers a taste of just a few of the sessions I attended while in Ottawa. I met many people, both in and outside of these workshops and panels, who were interested in and excited by the work that SPARC is doing. It was nice to be a “new face” at the conference and to focus on trying to meet as many new people – artists, administrators, innovators – as possible, always with SPARC and potential collaborations at the forefront of my mind. What an exciting way to start my time with this organization! Networking and connecting – it’s what SPARC is all about!

Introducing Chandel Gambles: SPARC’s new Northern Outreach Consultant

Greetings all ye’ SPARC members! My name is Chandel Gambles and I am absolutely thrilled to be joining the SPARC team as the Northern Outreach Consultant. SPARC recognizes that Ontario is rather large, so it is mighty important that we ensure that all of Ontario is represented!

Through my background as a writer, arts administrator, professional actor, and teacher, I recognize how many hats one must wear to work in the performing arts scene. While doing theatre research abroad, I became greatly interested in studying how arts outreach, arts education, and inter-community networks strengthen a community’s social dynamic.

In 2014, I gained my OCT teaching certification, with a specialized focus as an arts community educator. It therefore seemed serendipitous that in the same year I was offered the opportunity to attend SPARC’s first symposium. It was especially exciting to see representatives from rural communities across Ontario and beyond – to Scotland, in fact! They all came together to share their projects, aspirations, and development challenges. The symposium made it clear that although we each operated in our own geographical pods, we were not alone in the challenges we faced striving to enhance the performing arts scenes in our separate communities.

Having been raised in the Temiskaming Region, I am doubly excited to help link Northern Ontario through networking opportunities and the upcoming May symposium in Cobalt! I foresee a vibrant cross-Ontario performing arts network in our shared future, making each of us more successful and supported.

Let’s keep our phone lines humming! I can be reached by email at, by phone at 647-884-8887, and will also be active on our social media sites: @SPARCperforming on Twitter, and @sparcperformingarts on Instagram.

Introducing Rebecca Ballarin: SPARC’s new Network Coordinator

Hello members of SPARC: creators, presenters, producers, and community animators… movers n’ shakers, activators, collaborators, organizers, supporters, and think-outside-the-box-ers! My name is Rebecca Ballarin and I am SPARC’s new Network Coordinator. I look forward to working with all of you to continue the work that Elisha, Greg, and the SPARC steering committee have done to further strengthen the performing arts in rural and remote communities across the province over the past several years.

Rebecca with Madeline Smith at the 2014 Symposium

My first introduction to SPARC was as a member of the youth caucus at the 2014 Symposium. I was sitting on Theatre Ontario’s Youth Advisory committee at the time, and at the symposium I learned a great deal about youth-oriented initiatives across the province, and the variety of barriers to access youth in rural and remote communities face. It was such an enriching experience that I attended the second symposium in 2016 as an independent theatre director and producer. Again I was inspired by the range of community engaged, collaborative, and cross-disciplinary initiatives spearheaded by those in attendance and by everyone’s desire to connect, communicate and work together to increase their breadth, accessibility, and sustainability. The opportunity to now work with SPARC – to act as a catalyst for collaboration, to support capacity-building initiatives, to encourage knowledge sharing and mentorship – is very exciting.

I look forward to exploring how we can best support you, our members, as collectively we grow the online network; creating a vital resource that is accessible, adaptable and sustainable.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch and introduce yourselves! I can be reached by email at, by phone at 416-884-1494, and will also be active on our social media sites: @SPARCperforming on Twitter and @sparcperformingarts on Instagram.



Dave Ullrich: The DIY Festival Producer of Prince Edward County

By Krista Dalby

Dave Ullrich is a part-time resident who’s made a big impact on the Prince Edward County music scene. A musician for more than 30 years, Dave is also an entrepreneur, business consultant and owner of digital music store The music festivals he’s produced over the last three years in the County have already established themselves as highlights of the community’s cultural calendar.

Ullrich and his family had been part-timers in Prince Edward County for several years, and he was looking for a way to get more involved with the community, but nothing was jumping out at him. So he decided to put his DIY ethic to good use and start his own event: thus began his career as a festival producer. It all started with Sandbanks: New Waves, a festival he co-produced with filmmaker Ryan Noth at Sandbanks Provincial Park in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, the festival morphed into Sandbanks Music Festival.

Featuring big-name acts such as Sloan, Sarah Harmer, and Great Lake Swimmers the festival attracts both locals and visitors to the County, drawing approximately 800 people last year. The one-day festival provides great music, local food and drink, as well as lots of kids activities (full disclosure: I’ve been working at Dave’s festivals since they started, running children’s programming such as puppet-making, banner-painting and costume-making; I love my job!). Set against the stunning backdrop of a provincial park, the pristine Sandbanks beach, and with onsite camping available, Sandbanks Music Festival is the whole package for a magical weekend in the County.

But producing one epic festival per year wasn’t enough for Dave, and in 2016 he added a second festival to his roster: CountyPop. With headliners like Ron Sexsmith and Joel Plaskett CountyPop packs Picton’s premiere venue, the Crystal Palace, and features local musicians on its Songwriters’ Stage, including youth performers. Local artists are given the opportunity to get up on main stage to play alongside the headliners, creating some pretty special moments.

Ullrich’s commitment to his part-time home is undeniable. He’s partnered with local community organizations Friends of Sandbanks and Prince Edward Learning Centre, donating a portion of ticket sales and providing volunteer opportunities for the Learning Centre’s youth clientele. These partnerships developed organically from relationships that grew out of producing the festival.

“We’re all so lucky to have what we have,” he says. “In the context of a music event, it’s good to have that layer… it keeps things grounded.”

Ullrich says the family-friendly nature of his music festivals reflects the stage he’s at in his own life. With two kids at home he’s at an age where he wants to have a festival experience but doesn’t feel the need to party into the wee hours. Having a gaggle of kids at his festivals “changes the way people behave, it lightens everyone up.” It’s a far cry from when Ullrich started his career in music playing in clubs. He says that having costumed kids running around, jumping off speakers and whirling around the dancefloor “brings a positivity to music that isn’t always there… In terms of why we’re here on this earth, if you can get a few moments like that, you’re ahead of the game.”

But it’s not all rainbows; let’s not forget that rainbows are caused by, well, rain. Four of Ullrich’s last five festivals have been rained on, which as anyone who produces outdoor events knows, can create more than a bit of havoc, and really impact ticket sales. And speaking of ticket sales, is it just Prince Edward County, or does no one buy tickets in advance anymore? Ullrich cites this as a major problem. Dear readers, if there are events in your rural region that you intend to support, please, please buy your tickets early, lest the organizers think that no one is going to turn up.

Despite these challenges it’s clear that Dave loves what he does. His festivals exercise his creativity and flex his organizational muscles, which he claims he’s had since he was a kid. Plus, these events draw new people to the County, benefiting local business and letting visitors experience the place that he loves.

As for the future Ullrich isn’t interested in growing Sandbanks Music Festival, he thinks it’s perfect at its current size; a refreshing sentiment in our growth-obsessed culture. However Ullrich does see potential in expanding CountyPop, which drew about 500 people in 2016; there are multiple buildings at the venue’s location which could be programmed with other acts or activities. His current vision for his festivals at this time is simple: to just get them to the point that he can repeat them. With each repetition he gets closer to creating a predictable funding model, figuring out the right mix of music, and getting the logistics worked out for each venue. He feels like he’s there now with Sandbanks, and CountyPop is getting closer.

Ullrich’s music festivals have been warmly embraced by the community because they filled a niche; Prince Edward County is increasingly attracting urbanites with a taste for culture, and he knows that if he can program a strong headliner with some level of radio exposure, he’s golden. Ullrich attributes the success of his festivals to his background in music. After playing hundreds of gigs and umpteen festivals, he has an innate sense of what works. As he told me, “It’s like any art that I’ve ever done. Art, concept and execution: it’s what I’m good at.”

The next Sandbanks Music Festival was held on Saturday, September 16, 2017. You can find photos and reviews at – SPARC will be following this event for 2018 and get it on it’s  calendar.  I will be there – it is where you can find me in my element.  This is how a Music festival is done!


Indigenous Art and Context in Rural Australia

Fascinating article form Arts Hub exploring how the Desert Mob Symposium is deepening the relationship between artists and audience.

Why we need context in Indigenous art

Indigenous languages in Australia do not have a directly translatable word for ‘art’. Rather than a singular act of expression, for Indigenous people art is an integral part of life, community and culture.

Click on the link below for the full article:

We’d love to get your thoughts on this article, how it could relate to rural Canada’s performing arts communities?  Please leave a comment in the section below.



ACI Manitoba – Workshop Opportunity for Rural Presenters: Webinar or Winnipeg

If anyone from Ontario’s North Far West fancies popping over the border into Winnipeg, The Arts and Cultural Industries Association of Manitoba is hosting the following workshop for Rural Presenters.

Cultural Event Management for Rural Presenters on June 16th 2017

Registration is Free for rural presenters.

For those a bit further afield you can sign up for the Webinar below.


Tomorrow’s World – Digitizing the Performing Arts

A brave new world and opportunity for rural communities. This important and extensive report from CAPACOA and Strategic Moves highlights the potential, challenges and current status of digital innovation in Canada from an Arts Presenting perspective.

Click on the link below to see the full report:

“We want equitable support for the development of digital strategies that are specific to the needs of individual organizations, artists and communities with subsequent investment to maximize digital capacity and infrastructure within arts organizations and foster the ability for organizations to connect and create communities of knowledge/communities of practice.”

The report includes useful Case Studies highlighting digital ‘Presenting’ innovations in the national and international field.

We’d love to get your ideas, reflections and questions on this fast changing world and how it relates to rural communities.  Could a holographic Tupac fill out your local township’s community centre with 90’s Hip Hop? Could the world of Semantic Markup allow us to find out what’s going on across the Province in the rural Performing Arts?  Could intelligent block booking systems help agents bring big music to small halls?  Will we all be sitting at home with our virtual reality headsets on?  What opportunities and challenges will this bring to our rural communities.

Please feel free to leave your comments below in the comments section.  If you cannot see the comments section below please click on the Title of this blog at the top of the page, the page will then reload, scroll down and you will see a box in which you can write your comments.

Please get in touch with Greg if you are still experiencing technical difficulties.


Reversing Rural to Urban Migration

An interesting story out of Greece, discussing an upsurge in young professionals returning to the land in the wake of the economic crisis:

“Alexandros isn’t alone in his thinking. For the first time in 20 years, employment in the agricultural sector has been rising, from 11 percent in 2008, a 35-year low, to 12.9 percent in 2015, according to the latest available report by the Greek Statistical Service. Almost half of all new farmers come from the cities.”

Click on the above link for the full story.

Could this happen in North America without an economic crisis being the catalyst?  Is the land calling us back? What would this look like for Urban artists looking to move back or relocate?

Feel free to add your thoughts and comments below.

Big Ideas from Small Places

Big Ideas from Small Places. That seems to hit home for so many of us…we have small spaces….but BIG ideas!

Thanks to Eric from Fergus Grand Theatre for sharing.