It’s an idyllic summer evening as we drive up to the Winslow farm with its weathered barns, rolling hills and clusters of day lilies. The wind ruffles fields of grass, horses graze in the upper pasture, swooping barn swallows and the setting sun cast shadows across the stage, and I’m beginning to see why Toronto’s NOW Magazine calls 4th Line Theatre “a must-see.”
A champion of regional storytelling, 4th Line Theatre develops original material during the winter so that we reap the benefits for 2 months in the summer. If local culture becomes as valued as local food has become, then this little theatre on a farm on the outskirts of the pretty and oh-so-Ontarian town of Millbrook is way ahead of its time. What sets 4th Line Theatre apart is the clarity of its dedication to nurture and produce new plays with local flavour, and do it well.
4th Line Theatre kicks off its 20th season with a bright-eyed musical, Queen Marie. Little Leila Marie Koerber, a big-boned girl from Cobourg, Ontario went on to become beloved Academy Award-winning actress Marie Dressler. A veteran of Broadway and vaudeville, she didn’t appear on film until the age of 44. She was known for both comedic and dramatic roles, performing with the likes of Rudy Vallee, Charlie Chaplin and Lionel Barrymore. At the height of her career she earned more than Greta Garbo – not bad for our small town girl.
Playwright Shirley Barrie, winner of 2 Chalmers and a Dora Award, brings Dressler’s rise to fame to life. This musical is directed with pizzazz by Kim Blackwell, who has directed many popular plays from 4th Line including The Berlin Blues, The Right Road to Pontypool, and The Cavan Blazers. Clever staging, a talented and versatile cast, gorgeous costumes by Julia Tribe and music by Justin Hiscox make this a first rate production.
In August, don’t miss Sky Gilbert’s St. Francis of Millbrook, the story of a boy growing up gay on a farm in rural Ontario, a timely production which is sure to resonate. Dr. Gilbert is best known as co-founder and Artistic Director of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. He has forged new ground in theatre as an award-winning playwright, theatre impresario and professor.
Artistic Director Robert Winslow wears an array of hats as co-writer and director of many of the 4th Line Theatre productions and somehow finds time to appear as actor. Homegrown theatre of this quality requires a steady hand – Winslow and his production team take risks to keep the material vital, coax out its universal themes, and then hone it so that it remains entertaining and relevant to audiences from both near and away.
In this era of globalization, when we travel across continents for work and education, where extended families and immigration are the new normal, there often comes a time when we feel an irresistible longing to return home. We leave home to forge a new identity; we return home to rediscover and reclaim our own Odyssean epic. Rarely do we have the luxury of sitting around the campfire or the dinner table to hear stories of the villains and heroes of our family tree. In the absence of the familial bosom, theatre, film and literature do the best job of telling these stories. Sometimes they are the only means by which we can go home again.
4th Line Theatre breaks new ground by digging deep into its native soil, and in so doing gives us a map of our identity which shows us the way home.
To buy tickets or learn more about these outstanding productions and the people behind them, visit the 4th Line Theatre website »