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Audition call for Guys and Dolls

Lighthouse Festival Theatre is rockin’ the boat with our 2020 Community Show production of Guys and Dolls!

The stakes couldn’t be higher as two big-time New York City gamblers, a long-suffering showgirl, and a Salvation Army captain desperate to save souls roll the dice on love in the Big Apple. The magic of Broadway comes to Lighthouse in this classic American musical that’s a sure bet to delight audiences of all ages!

Auditions for Guys and Dolls will be held at Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover on Wednesday, November 6, and Thursday, November 7, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Performance dates are April 17 – May 3, 2020.

Guys and Dolls director Derek Ritschel invites anyone in the community (age 16 and older) who would like to take part in our 2020 Community Show to come out for an audition. No previous theatrical experience is required. Prepare a short section of a song and be ready to have fun!

Visit or call the Lighthouse box office at 519-583-2221 to book an audition time.

The Community Show is a chance for members of the community to perform on the Lighthouse stage. Our professional team, backed by community members in key production roles, collaborate with dozens of local performers to create a show that makes audiences cheer year after year.

This show is open to everyone in Norfolk County and surrounding areas who loves to perform or has always wanted to try. Whether you’re a veteran community theatre actor or have never been on stage before, what matters is your enthusiasm to learn and have fun.

WHAT: Guys and Dolls auditions
WHEN: Wednesday, November 6 & Thursday, November 7, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
WHERE: Lighthouse Festival Theatre, 247 Main St., Port Dover
MORE INFO: Call the box office at 519-583-2221 to book an audition time

Announcing our 2020 Playbill

SUBSCRIPTIONS for current subscribers. For subscription options click here.
GROUP TICKETS. For group pricing options click here.


COMEDY by Kristen Da Silva
Twelve years ago, Hannah Taylor was swept away in a night of romance when rising country music star Jesse Emberly rode into the Sugar Road Amusement Park for the Spurs and Hearts Music Festival. Now Jesse’s coming back to town and the whole county is buzzing, but is Hannah ready for an encore performance? Don’t miss this sweet romantic comedy with a country twang.


COMEDY by Norm Foster
Pull up a stool at the best diner in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole. Recently dumped by his fiancée, Sean Merrit wanders into town looking for a change of pace from the big city, and soon strikes up a relationship with Janine the waitress. To win her heart, Sean will have to survive a grilling by Janine’s three wisecracking friends – and take a leap of faith that this town in the middle of nowhere is exactly where he’s meant to be.


COMEDY by Ivan Menchell
It’s hard to meet people these days, so when sweet-tempered Ida takes a shine to Sam the butcher while visiting the cemetery, it seems like a gift from above. But Ida’s friends and fellow widows – feisty Lucille and overbearing Doris – don’t want their monthly cemetery trips interrupted, so they make it their business to break up the budding romance. When they realize they’ve made a terrible mistake, the widows must play matchmaker to make sure love survives after all.


COMEDY by Bonnie Green
The boxes are all packed, and sisters Blanche and Stella are ready to take their mother to her new nursing home. There’s just one problem – mom won’t go. She still has a few skeletons in the closet, and she’s not leaving her house until she’s said her piece. While the sisters bicker about what to do, their mother shouts zingers out her bedroom window, revealing long-buried family secrets that will change their lives forever.


COMEDY by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick
Check into the Howard Johnson Motor Inn for murder, mayhem, and killer laughs. Travel back to the 1970s as ditzy Arlene and her lover Mitchell, a Casanova in disco pants, plot to knock off Arlene’s used car salesman husband inside their hotel room. Things quickly go haywire as the hapless hitmen keep getting in their own way, and their attempts to do each other in hilariously fail. Allegiances shift, and soon everybody wants everybody dead. But hey, all’s fair in love and contract killing!

Season Topper: GLORY DAYS!

CREATED by Chris McHarge
A blockbuster live concert featuring music from those legendary artists who got their start at California’s famous Troubadour Club – Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Elton John, Neil Diamond, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, Carole King, Carly Simon, Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and more. Fabulous singers backed by a dynamite live band perform this cavalcade of hits. GLORY DAYS is an incredible musical night to remember!

Everyman Sparks a mainstay on Lighthouse stage

One of Artistic Director Derek Ritschel’s most important jobs is choosing which actors will appear on the Lighthouse stage every summer. Since in many ways casting can make or break a show, Ritschel and the guest director will often see dozens of hopefuls vying for the same role and debate their relative merits for weeks before making a final decision.

But there’s one actor Ritschel does not hesitate to cast if the part is right – Stephen Sparks.

“Stephen is the everyman,” Ritschel said. “It doesn’t matter what generation you are, when you’re in the audience you can connect with Stephen very easily.”

The Edmonton-born, Toronto-based actor goes back a long time with Lighthouse. He was introduced to Port Dover audiences in 2010 in Race Day, during Chris McHarge’s final season as artistic director.

The following year, Ritschel was deciding who to cast in When the Reaper Calls, the first show he would direct as the new AD, and thought of Sparks, who he knew as a fellow Toronto actor but had never performed with.

“When I worked with him for the first time, it was like a dream,” Ritschel said. “Literally from my first day as artistic director, I said, ‘This is a Lighthouse guy.’”

Sparks says that from his very first visit, he considered himself a Dover kind of guy.

“The sense of community is so strong in Port Dover,” he said. “I’ve got to spend a bunch of Canada Days in Port Dover, which I love. The whole town is out on Main Street and St. George, and there’s a family feel. It’s a real joyful day.”

That sense of joy extends throughout the entire season and keeps him coming back summer after summer.

“The people, the town, the work,” Sparks said. “The people at Lighthouse – Derek in particular, and everyone – are always so welcoming and supportive.”

During his first season, Sparks and his Race Day castmates practiced their dance steps on the unforgiving cement floor of the Masonic Lodge. Reminiscing about what he calls “a moveable feast” of rehearsal spaces – including the community centre and the Anglican church hall – Sparks is grateful that the theatre has since invested in a dedicated rehearsal hall.

“That was a big, welcome change,” he said.

Now in his tenth season in Port Dover, Sparks trails only Ritschel himself for the title of most performances on the Lighthouse stage. The reason for that, Ritschel said, goes beyond Sparks’ brilliance in comedic and dramatic roles alike.

“He’s down to earth and so easy to work with, because he’s a super nice guy,” Ritschel said, adding that Sparks’ dedication rubs off on his castmates.

“He raises the game. There’s lots of fun with it, but he’s here to work. There’s total focus.”

“I take the craft real seriously,” Sparks said, whether he’s taking a pratfall, landing a biting zinger, delivering a poignant monologue as a widowed car salesman in Test Drive, or donning Sherlock Holmes’ famed deerstalker cap in Baskerville.

“I’ve played a lot of big roles here, so that brings a lot of responsibility when you have a leading role,” Sparks said, explaining that with top billing comes the obligation to show up early and encourage the other actors, while keeping the mood in the rehearsal hall “convivial” yet disciplined.

Sparks says his favourite Lighthouse shows – if he were forced to choose – are the ones that combine humour and heart.

“I love telling stories. Just making people laugh is fun, but when you do a show that is entertaining but also has a beautiful message and leaves you thinking, that’s so gratifying,” he said.

“And Lunenburg has that.”

Sparks brings his everyman quality to his role as Charlie, the charming neighbour in Norm Foster’s Lunenburg, a Maritime tale about a widow (played by Sharon Heldt) and her best friend (Melanie Janzen) who unearth world-changing surprises on the shores of the Atlantic.

“It’s real people being superhumanly funny,” Sparks said. “It’s about people connecting and losing connections and finding new ones. It’s got a masterful playwright, masterful women – and I’m in it too,” he laughed.

Having a cast of seasoned actors who know each other well, combined with Lighthouse’s experienced team of designers, tech crew and stage managers, means everyone could immediately get down to the business of making Lunenburg sparkle.

“Everyone in that room is a veteran, and Derek’s a great leader,” Sparks said. “I adore everybody in this company. You know you’re in good hands.”

He can’t wait to bring this show before a packed Lighthouse audience.

“There’s nothing like it to have 400 people laughing in concert,” he said. “You can go to the movies and there are giggles. In theatres, especially in a big theatre, it’s a wave that is palpable.”

Foster’s script certainly brings the humour, Sparks added.

“It’s impeccable. He’s a craftsman,” he said. “If you paraphrase a Norm line, it doesn’t work. If you say it his way, it’s always funnier. He’s got a musical ear for comedy. And it’s not just about the jokes – it’s about the rhythm and what comes before the setup and punchline.”

But like the best Foster scripts, Lunenburg goes from punchlines to emotional gut punches in a matter of moments.

“Stuff matters,” Sparks said. “It’s funny, you can really laugh to it, but there are moments where you go, ohh, that’s real. I prefer to have audiences going away thinking.”

Shakespeare comes to Silver Lake Park

To thank community, Lighthouse presents Driftwood Theatre’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Derek Ritschel wanted to do something special for the community.

Heading into Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s 40th season, Ritschel, the artistic director, and the board of directors put their heads together to think of some way to give back to the town and region that has supported the summer theatre on the shores of Lake Erie through thick and thin.

Inspired by the long-running Dream in the Park in Toronto, they had their idea – Lighthouse would bring Shakespeare to Port Dover.

Fast forward a few months and Driftwood Theatre is poised to stage A (Musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream at Silver Lake Park on Saturday, August 17, at 7:30 p.m.

Lighthouse is footing the bill, meaning everyone can enjoy a modern take on one of the Bard’s best-loved plays – Driftwood’s version comes complete with original music in the style of Motown, soul, calypso, reggae and more – by packing a picnic, bringing a lawn chair, and seeing the show for free.

“It’s something that’s never been done in Port Dover, and for the 40th, this is something that Lighthouse can do that’s unique but still in our wheelhouse,” Ritschel explained.

“For 25 years, Driftwood Theatre has toured all across Ontario entertaining audiences, and people come back year after year because they find Shakespeare in the park to be a unique and fun experience.”

Adapted by Kevin Fox, Tom Lillington and Driftwood artistic director D. Jeremy Smith, the company describes its imaginative spin on Shakespeare’s classic play as “a magical adventure of musical proportions sure to delight the hearts of audiences of all ages.”

The story centres on the midnight revels of four lovers and a group of hapless actors who wander into an enchanted forest only to have their lives forever changed by the denizens of the faery realm.

“It’s exciting,” Ritschel said. “It’s an open atmosphere, people can come, and it’s an easy introduction to Shakespeare. It’s easy and fun.”

Driftwood is touring the show around Ontario as part of what the company calls “the Bard’s bus tour,” and the early returns are promising, with one reviewer for writing that the production left audiences “delighted and astounded.”

Ritschel invites the community to experience the magic that is Shakespeare in the park and celebrate Lighthouse’s milestone anniversary the best way the theatre knows how – by putting on a show.

“It’s the medium we believe strongly adds to the fabric of our community,” Ritschel said.

A (Musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream will be performed at Silver Lake Park on Saturday, August 17, at 7:30 p.m. For full details, click here.

Behind the scenes with stage manager Alice Barnett

Once the director gives their final words of encouragement to the actors and moves on to their next project, each Lighthouse show is entrusted to the stage manager for the duration of the run.

Along with cueing the lights and sound effects, the stage manager makes sure the show is running on time, reminds actors of dialogue, blocking and motivation, and generally ensures that the each performance is true to the director’s vision.

For two productions this season, that stage manager has been newly minted Port Dover resident Alice Barnett.

“I love it. It’s so much fun,” Barnett said of her first season at Lighthouse. “You walk in and it’s such a family vibe here already, and that’s always really comforting coming to.”

Barnett was raised in Newmarket but visited Norfolk County often as a child to see relatives in Wilsonville. When she moved to Port Dover last year with 11 years of professional stage management experience under her belt, she had high hopes that she could continue her career at Lighthouse.

“It’s a really friendly atmosphere,” Barnett said of her first impressions of the theatre. “Everyone knows how everyone works and how they like to work, so I find it makes the process that much easier and smoother. You hit the ground running.”

She was also delightfully surprised by the rehearsal hall on Main Street.

“It’s so new!” she said. “Normally you think it’s going to be a church hall or something like that, but this is a beautiful facility that Derek has got us.”

Having air conditioning on a hot summer’s day or being able to leave props and furniture where they are – rather than having to put them away each night because someone else is using the space – is a big help during three weeks of rehearsals.

“For the actors, having a simple, clean space makes all the difference,” she said. “You’re not distracted, it’s temperature controlled. It’s so funny how the simplest things make the biggest difference.”

Barnett was stage manager for the first show of the season and is now hard at work on the fourth show. But she didn’t get much of a break, only enjoying a three-day breather between the close of Sexy Laundry at Lighthouse’s sister theatre, Showboat Festival Theatre in Port Colborne, and the start of her preparation for Prairie Nurse one week before the actors began rehearsing.

For Sexy Laundry, Barnett worked with a pair of veteran Lighthouse actors, Melodee Finlay and Ralph Small, in a show directed by Artistic Director Derek Ritschel. Now she’s supporting director Audrey Dwyer and seven actors new to Lighthouse in Prairie Nurse.

“For Sexy Laundry, everything was very straightforward. No one’s coming in and out (on stage), there aren’t props flying everywhere. With Prairie Nurse, which is a farce, there are doors opening and closing, people whizzing in an out, props everywhere. So in that regard it’s very different,” Barnett explained. 

“With Ralph and Mel, I think everyone in the room knew everyone’s strengths so it was easy to play towards those. Whereas with Prairie Nurse, everyone’s new, so there’s more experimentation. ‘How do we make this work? What should we do? Let’s try it a couple of different ways.’ Both approaches are very different, very useful, but they get the results that each company needs.”

Barnett has long known she wanted to work in theatre, and in particular as a stage manager, a job that requires knowing a little about every element of stagecraft and remaining focused for every moment of each performance.

She was a self-described “drama kid” at Huron Heights Secondary School, a specialty arts high school in Newmarket, where she gravitated to working behind the scenes rather than wanting to be on stage.

“(Being a stage manager) was a lot of fun, and really engaging. It was the most appealing to me because I was doing the most possible,” Barnett said.

“You were there for everything from the beginning right through to the end. Whereas other departments, once they create something and hand it off to you, they get to step away, but I liked being a part of it all the way through.”

She continued her studies in technical production at Sheridan College, graduating with a solid grounding in lighting, sound, props, wardrobe and stage management, as well as benefitting from crucial real-world experience running shows.

Her time at Sheridan confirmed her hunch that stage management was what she wanted to do for a living.

“There was never any doubt,” Barnett said. “I’ve always wanted to love to go to work, and I do.”

As a stage manager, Barnett might be called upon to fix props and costumes, motivate actors, negotiate with venue staff, strategize with the director, and even make coffee – sometimes all on the same day.

“It’s all-encompassing,” she said. “You have to know how to do a little bit of everything, and you have to be willing to learn.”

One of the stage manager’s most delicate tasks is approaching an actor after they’ve flubbed a line or changed their blocking during a performance to find out what went wrong and what stage management can do to smooth out what’s happening on stage.

“It’s situational. You have to read the room and read the people that you’re working with,” Barnett said.

“Everyone understands you don’t like to be told you made a mistake. That’s hard. So it’s just being sensitive to how people receive information. You just get better at it with practice.

“Everyone’s very understanding and knows that you’re doing it for the best interest of the show, and it’s not personal. We’re really here to support them. It’s all about making sure that they’re comfortable in the room and they have what they need so they can do their jobs. If their job is going well, then our job is going well.”

Even after 11 years in the business, Barnett says she’s still honing her craft.

“I’m still young in my career. You learn every day, in every theatre and every rehearsal space. They’re all different,” she said.

It’s the feeling of working in live theatre that keeps her coming back.

“I think every theatre you go to, you kind of create a new family,” she said. “So when you go into a rehearsal space, it’s a safe space and there’s a lot of compassion and support. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t enjoy that.”

Now that she knows her way around Lighthouse, Barnett hopes to be a fixture at her hometown theatre for years to come.

“I’d love to continue working with the company and seeing what they produce and what Derek comes up with next,” she said. “It’s always exciting.”

Thoughtful farce on the prairie

Prairie Nurse explores big, complex issues like immigration, identity, and power dynamics. That it does so while making audiences laugh out loud makes this play by Marie Beath Badian something special.

Prairie Nurse is a compelling play because it covers so much ground,” says director Audrey Dwyer.

“Canada was celebrating its Centennial year. During that time there was a migration of Filipina nurses. The play showcases a community of people who are hard workers. Those are only a few things I found quite compelling.

“It’s also a farce. And so through the farce genre, Marie Beath makes us laugh while she’s employing the idea of characters with blind spots. A farce is typically about an improbable situation, however, her characters are rooted in the truth. She’s asking us to examine how we see one another and how we judge one another.”

The story is driven by a major blind spot – the fact that Wilf, a dim-witted lab technician at a small-town Saskatchewan hospital in 1967, falls in love with Puring, one of two recently arrived Filipina nurses, but can’t tell her apart from her fellow nurse Penny, even though the two are quite different in temperament.

The wisecracking head nurse and the daft doctor are similarly befuddled by their new colleagues, which adds to the confusion.

The characters are “in the realm of ridiculous,” Dwyer said. But a deeper message underpins the comical misunderstandings.

“They’re unable to see each other in their fullness, in their whole authentic self,” she said.

The story is based on Badian’s mother’s experience as a Filipina immigrant nurse, but Dwyer said people of colour struggle to be seen as individuals.

“It’s the experience that a lot of racialized people find, where there can be two people in a room and they get mixed up,” Dwyer said. “And my question is why? We define that as racism, we define that as a microaggression, but I wanted to go deeper and ask why do those things happen in Prairie Nurse?

Her contention is that “in Prairie Nurse, people aren’t taking the time to get to know one another,” especially at work.

“These characters are spending eight hours a day with each other in a stressful hospital setting. There is no room to get to really get to know one another, to ask, ‘How is your life? How are you? Who are you, on a deeper more intimate level?’ It is also about trust and power dynamics,” she said.

The play’s prairie setting resonates with Dwyer, who is headed home to Winnipeg after her stint in Port Dover to become the associate artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

“As a Winnipegger reading this script, I can really understand the warmth, care and the team element within this hospital,” she said, adding that she sees a parallel between Penny and Puring’s story and the immigrants and refugees coming to Canada today in search of a better life.

“I think this story in many ways is about how Canada’s doors were open,” Dwyer said.

“In this case, we’re seeing an idyllic Canada that opened its arms specifically to Filipina nurses. But with that welcoming doesn’t always come a positive experience. And because the play is about community, it’s really asking us today, how do we welcome others? And that we can’t sit back on our laurels and say, oh, Canada’s wonderful. We have to actually do the work to make sure that everybody is feeling seen.

“I think (Badian) does it in such a masterful way, because we get to laugh a lot. But what I’m hoping is that audiences can go home and go, ‘who are the new people in my community and how can I make them feel welcome?’ And that might mean more than what we’re doing today. Each person we meet might need something different, but we won’t know unless we ask.”

To pose those important questions comedically, Dwyer can lean on her years of experience as an improv performer and sketch comedy writer with The Second City in Toronto. She said the fast-paced improv world gave her “a deep internal understanding of comedic timing, rhythm, what is funny and why it’s funny.”

“(The actors’) role is not to make people laugh, it’s to play intention” and let the humour in the script speak for itself, Dwyer explained.

“What Marie Beath has written in terms of the human condition is quite hilarious, no matter where you live. And so we’re lucky, the comedy is embedded in the script.”

Stage manager Alice Barnett says the jokes born of characters’ confused interactions ring true.

“It’s awkward at times, but it plays truthfully,” she said. “There are situations you can relate to and be like, yup, I’ve been there, and I know that you’re awkward right now, but it’s funny.”

Barnett also appreciates that the script manages to include physical comedy and other farcical elements while examining big ideas through a comedic lens.

“And the humour doesn’t play down to that. It helps lift it up,” she said. “It feels really good to work on comedies that I think everyone will enjoy. I’m really excited to put this one in front of an audience.”

Dwyer is similarly jazzed to bring a smart comedy like Prairie Nurse to theatregoers with a deep appreciation for the genre.

“It’s wonderful to know that the Lighthouse audience loves a comedy. People know what’s funny, but you can’t keep laughing at the same thing forever. To be funny means to be smart,” she said. “Understanding a joke, understanding satire or farce, takes some wit. I’m pretty excited to bring this play to these audiences, because from what I understand, they’re pretty smart.”

Smart enough not to miss the message amid all the laughs.

“All of us need to be hearing stories about everyone. Theatre is a powerful tool to teach us about power dynamics, about empathy, about history, about who we are and who we can be,” Dwyer said.

“The audience can discover themselves, they can discover their friends, and their coworkers. The hope is that that we’re seeing and engaging with each other as whole authentic people, not just through the lens of gender or class or race. The hope is that we will strive to be better people.”

Comedy on ice

Before playing a new character, Daniela Vlaskalic must first play detective.

Vlaskalic spent the week before rehearsals started for Hurry Hard – a comedy by Kristen Da Silva making its world premiere at Lighthouse July 3-20 – scouring the script for clues about her character, Sandy, especially noting what other characters say about Sandy and what Sandy says about herself.

“That’s all you’ve got,” Vlaskalic said of the dialogue. “Some descriptions and stage directions as well, but usually that’s it. You start to figure out, okay, what’s this person like?”

But her solo investigation only went so far.

“As you enter into a (rehearsal) environment and you’re actually talking to another person, sometimes the choices that you’ve made stay and sometimes they go out the window, because somebody else throws a different interpretation of a line to you and you just react, and that continues until you unlock the scene,” she said.

“You come in with some ideas, but it’s usually the rehearsal process where you refine and create it all together.”

Figuring out what makes this new play tick was the mission accepted by Vlaskalic and her Hurry Hard co-stars Susie Burnett, Bruce Davies, James Hawksley and Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski, under the direction of Sarah Phillips.

“Oh, I love it. It’s actually some of my favourite work that I do, working on new plays,” Vlaskalic said. “Because no one’s ever done it before, so you’re originating this role. It’s exciting because it’s fresh, it’s new, you’re not trying to do something that someone’s done before.”

As a playwright herself, Vlaskalic appreciated how Kristen Da Silva populated the world of the Stayner Curling Club with richly drawn characters.

“It’s hard to write people who’ve had relationships for a long time, and she’s created a beautiful shorthand for all the characters so that you really believe Bill and Terry are brothers, and Darlene and Sandy have been friends since high school, and Bill and Sandy were married and divorced but they still have feelings (for each other),” Vlaskalic said.

“There are a lot of really beautiful moments of honesty and truth and sacrifice – the things that we do for family and friends that can maybe change the course of our lives. And within all of that, the context of curling and being a team.”

Making those relationships ring true is the actors’ challenge.

“Usually when you get to know someone, it takes a long time. Here we’re just thrown together in a room and we have to just figure out a way to get along and be okay with it,” Vlaskalic said. “There’s a certain vulnerability and openness that you have to have to just let people in really quickly.”

The characters in Hurry Hard are facing the threatened closure of their club while they work through old wounds and try for one last blaze of glory. Vlaskalic hasn’t stepped foot in a curling rink since moving away from her hometown of Thunder Bay, but she remembers it fondly.

“We were just kids playing, throwing the rocks. Probably doing it all wrong,” she laughed. “It was a really small rink. What I liked about it was the sense of community.”

When she first saw Eric Bunnell’s set design – inspired by a road trip he took to several small-town Ontario curling rinks – Vlaskalic was blown away.

“I felt like I stepped back in time,” she recalled. “It really helps us (as actors) to be in an environment that is really familiar. It’s comfortable and it’s sort of ‘our place.’ It’s nice that he’s done such a great job of creating that environment for us so we can just enjoy it and play on it.”

Artistic Director Derek Ritschel is excited to have Vlaskalic making her Lighthouse debut this summer.

“I saw her at a general audition a few years ago and I really liked her. And then I saw her in a production of Halfway There in Port Stanley and I thought, yeah, she has to come to Lighthouse.”

Ritschel said it was Vlaskalic’s “freedom of performance” that impressed him.

“It was just natural. She has a comfort on stage and is easy to watch,” he said. “She’s just someone who knows her craft, which I appreciate.

It’s taken vigorous training and years of experience for Vlaskalic to hone her craft, but her affinity for the stage has been a constant since day one.

“I think I’ve always felt more comfortable on stage than in life,” she laughed. “I’m naturally an introvert, so I think it was more surprising to everyone in my family and anyone that I knew that I wanted to be an actor. I try not to have a lot of drama in my life, whereas you meet other people and their lives are full of drama. I prefer to keep it on the stage, if I can.”

Equally at home performing Shakespeare and modern drama, Vlaskalic keeps coming back to summer theatre because she loves the rhythm of comedy, with its back and forth dialogue punctuated by punchlines.

““When you see a show that’s really on a roll, it’s just so seamless. There’s a real flow and a rhythm to it,” she said.

“And you can’t really find that rhythm on your own. You have to find it with the company that you’re working with. And then when the audience gets introduced, that’s the other element. Sometimes a joke flies and sometimes it falls flat. A matinee crowd might be laughing at all the physical humour, and an evening crowd might be laughing at all the jokes.

“And that’s the beauty of live theatre. You get on the train and it takes you on a really interesting journey.”

Backstage drama in the spotlight

She may be a rookie director, but at the helm of a show about backstage drama at a summer theatre, Mairi Babb is in her element.

“It’s a world I know,” said Babb, who is making her directorial debut with Early August from June 12 to June 29.

The play by Kate Lynch sees four actors and a stage manager at a summer theatre not unlike Lighthouse navigating relationship problems and other backstage disasters while the show goes on around them.

“I loved the characters. I think all these characters are so wonderful and richly developed,” Babb said.

“I loved how Kate captured everything about a long run … It’s the tiny dramas and the big dramas. And also just being able to show the audience what it’s like (offstage) when they’re watching. They’re seeing a polished thing, but what’s happened backstage is often just a disaster. People have falling outs or never got along in the first place, and you just have to push through. So I loved the idea of Lighthouse audiences getting to see their actors stripped down a little bit.”

It was during Babb’s first season acting in Port Dover that artistic director Derek Ritschel approached her about one day directing a show of her own.

“And I was like, oh, come on!” she laughed.

But the idea stuck with her. Babb has long been interested in directing, dating back to her university days when she coached younger actors in the art of interpreting Shakespearean dialogue. Later stints as a voice and text coach in Winnipeg, assistant director under Marti Maraden at Drayton, and puppet captain for part of the national tour of War Horse only whetted her appetite to give the top job a try.

“I’ve always enjoyed watching things in rehearsal and figuring out how people solve problems – bringing all those technical things and making them into artistic choices,” she said.

After a few more years acting at Lighthouse and observing what goes into staging a show, Babb decided it was time to make the leap from performing in and critically watching other shows to directing one of her own.

Ritschel gave her a handful of scripts on his shortlist to bring to Lighthouse and she gravitated to Early August.

“For people who aren’t involved in the theatre, it’s getting to peek behind the curtain,” she said. “It’s madness backstage, and I think people are fascinated by what goes on in the dark spaces.”

She admitted to some nerves heading into her first day of rehearsal, but was confident in the team around her, starting with Ritschel himself.

“Derek is just unflappable, which is an amazing quality to have. And he’s so incredibly kind,” Babb said.

“He said to me, ‘I’m going to give you the best stage management team, because I want you to be taken care of,’” she continued, referring to the veteran stage management duo of Daniele Guillaume and Meghan Speakman.

“He gave me people that he knew I could be free to ask questions of at any time,” Babb said, which proved invaluable as she collaborated with set designer Bill Chesney to get the look and feel of the actors’ common area backstage – called the green room – just right.

Having Lighthouse mainstays Wendy Lundgren design the lights and Roni Clark imagine the costumes also put Babb at ease.

“There’s been nothing but support and confidence from every side,” she said. “Coming back here for my fourth season, it feels like coming home. I know that I could ask for help at any time, from anybody, and I would feel supported. That’s a rare thing in a theatre community.”

Ritschel said he could tell right away that Babb was destined to direct.

“The mark of a great director is not just one thing … it is tackling numerous components such as lights, costumes, sound, set, props, the audience experience, and the actors’ performance, and seamlessly focusing them all towards one vision,” he said.

“It takes confidence, passion, leadership skills, and flexibility to another level. I see these qualities in Mairi. I have from the day I met her. I know she would thank Lighthouse for giving her the opportunity to direct her first show professionally, but the truth is we are grateful she said yes.”

As for choosing who would populate the world of Early August on stage, Babb said certain roles immediately brought to mind actors she knew, either through performing alongside them or by reputation. With those roles locked in, she went through her first audition process from the other side of the table.

“For me it was really important to have good team players and good people,” Babb said. “They’re together for a long run, so I want good people who are not going to create any drama offstage.”

The drama was reserved for the rehearsal hall. Once the actors knew more or less where to stand and when to move, Babb and the cast set about “ripping it all apart.”

“We have a rough template, and now we’re going to pull it apart and see the essence of what needs to stay and what needs to change,” Babb explained.

That’s the fun of rehearsing, she added – finding the little moments that add up to big emotions and big laughs.

“It’s all about layers. So by the time you get to opening, you have all of these different layers of impulses and things that make everything fuller, rather than just walking around (the stage) and going ‘this is my blocking.’”

Inspired by directorial mentors like Maraden, Ritschel, and Marcia Kash, Babb’s mantra during rehearsals is collaboration.

“I don’t really dictate a lot before we get into it (at rehearsal). I watch to see what the actual actors bring to it,” Babb said.

“Everyone has answers. I’m here to shape. We do have time in this rehearsal process to listen and see where everyone’s coming from, and not just say ‘we have 10 days, so there’s no room for messing around.’

“You have to have someone who makes final decisions, but if you get a good group of people together, collaboration is what’s going to give you the best product.”

Finding their way back to love

When you only have three weeks to turn words on the page into a full-fledged stage show, it helps to have a running start.

Fortunately for director Derek Ritschel, the stars of Sexy Laundry, Melodee Finlay and Ralph Small, were off to the races from day one. Finlay and Small have acted together many times throughout their careers, which meant they could immediately get to work figuring out what made their characters tick.

“There’s a comfort level because we already know each other, rather than two strangers coming to the table and having to find an energy. He knows all my idiosyncrasies and neuroses,” Finlay said with a laugh.

“And she knows mine,” Small grinned.

“The familiarity here doesn’t breed contempt,” he added. “It breeds a certain level of trust and freedom to work together and to help each other out without being overly self-conscious.”

Feeling comfortable may be helpful for the actors, but it’s the very problem that their characters are dealing with. Henry and Alice’s long marriage has become as comfortable as an old couch, but their relationship is showing signs of fraying around the edges. Alice wants to recapture the spark that drew them together in the first place and thinks a weekend away at a swanky hotel with a copy of Sex for Dummies is just the ticket. But they soon discover that their issues run deeper than what’s happening (or isn’t) in the bedroom.

“As a woman of a certain age, I know all those things (Alice) is feeling – that she’s put on a little weight, that she’s feeling a little less attractive, that he doesn’t really find her (appealing) any more,” Finlay said. “Life happens, and it doesn’t mean you don’t love each other, but you get comfortable in the being of it. And it doesn’t matter where you are in the relationship, you still need to make the effort, and listen.”

“I think we both agree that this play is about two people trying to find their way back to each other,” Small said. “They’ve lost their way through age and work and being beaten down by life. They haven’t lost each other – they’re still very much in love. But they don’t know how to approach it the way they used to.”

Canadian playwright Michele Riml’s script is full of raw, emotionally charged moments interspersed with witty humour. But rather than playing the one-liners for laughs, Finlay and Small aim to have all the dialogue ring true.

“I really think the magic is when you just play the honesty of it,” Finlay said. “Life is funny, even when you’re not trying to be funny.”

“We kind of let (the humour) happen organically,” Small added.

Finlay sees Sexy Laundry as a reminder about the importance of communication in a relationship.

“We expect our partner to be a mind reader, and that’s never the case. You have to just say to the person what you need, what you want. They’re trying to do it, but after so much of not saying things, they’re out of practice,” she said.

During one intense night away, Henry and Alice really see each other for the first time in years and remember just how much they care about each other.

“Even though it seems at the outset that these people have turned away (from each other), we want the audience to see that there is still something there that’s worth coming back together for,” Finlay said.

“Then you realize that there’s so much love with this couple.”

This is the second go at Sexy Laundry for both actors, with Small having played Henry at the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia in 2009 and Finlay portraying Alice at Lighthouse in 2009.

“But we’re different people now,” Finlay said. “And it’s been long enough in between that even though we have fond memories of that time, I don’t really remember what I did (as Alice). It’s long enough that I’m not trying to recreate anything. And now our life experiences 10 years later come to the table, with hopefully a bunch of wonderful things to add to the characters.”

Small said playing Henry and Alice again some years later means he and Finlay won’t have to rely on their imaginations as much as they did when they were younger, since their performances will be more grounded in real-life experience.

“This time around, I don’t think we’re going to try to act our way through any of it. We’re really going to try and relive these people’s experiences,” he said. “That’s a great thing to tackle at this time in our lives and our careers.”

Small added that returning to this show alongside good friends feels different.

“It just feels more personal – working with Mel again, working with Derek in this environment, and working on something that has so many layers to it, and so much richness in its material of the human experience – of our own lives’ experience,” he said. “So it feels a little more rewarding, in a way.”

Getting to spend six weeks in Port Dover doesn’t hurt either, Finlay added.

“I love it here. When I cross that bridge and come into town, it’s like a different world. My shoulders just relax,” she said. “My experience here has always just been joyful.”

Small said having the support of the entire community makes performing at Lighthouse something special.

“The feeling of collegiality, that we’re all in this together. That we’re all working together to produce a great product. It’s creative, it’s fun,” he said. “Derek is just the gold standard of a human being in many ways. There’s trust, there’s love, there’s support. That’s what keeps me coming back.”

Watch our 2019 season preview video

It’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s 40th season! Watch as Artistic Director Derek Ritschel and some special guests preview all the fun in store for you this summer in beautiful lakeside Port Dover.

Special thanks to Rainey Media for once again lending their magic touch to our season video, and to the local businesses and friends of Lighthouse who took part in the two-day shoot. Not to worry, no artistic directors were harmed in the making of this video.

We hope you enjoy this sneak peek at our upcoming season, and that you’ll join us for even more hilarity this summer. Single tickets and subscriptions are on sale now. Get yours today and get ready for a memorable season of laughter by the lake!

Looking for love in leather and lace

Can racy lingerie and a copy of Sex for Dummies shake up a stagnant marriage, even if both partners aren’t ready to bare their souls?

Henry and Alice check into a trendy hotel with two suitcases and plenty of baggage. After 25 years together, the emergence of love handles and receding hairlines, they’ve hit a plateau, and Alice wants to shake things up by unearthing her inner vixen.

They soon discover that what’s missing from their relationship isn’t leather and lace, but the spark that drew them together in the first place.

Sexy Laundry, starring Lighthouse favourites Melodee Finlay and Ralph Small, gets our 40th season off to a spicy start.

“Communication – that’s the key. It’s two people who do genuinely love each other, but amid life’s stress they’ve forgotten how to listen to each other and see the person they fell in love with. The ability to express that connection is gone,” said Artistic Director Derek Ritschel, who is directing this production.

It’s only fitting that this milestone season begins with a pair of Lighthouse veterans on stage. Melodee Finlay appeared in our original production of Sexy Laundry and returns this summer to reprise the role of Alice. She was most recently seen in Stage Fright last season. Ralph Small directed the world premiere of Fair and Square last year and gets back on stage this year to portray Henry.

“They’ve worked together many times over the past 30 years,” Ritschel says of Finlay and Small, who played newlyweds in Separate Beds at Lighthouse in 2006. “They were just charming,” Ritschel remembers. “They’re great friends. They have really nice chemistry.”

Michele Riml’s witty script offers lots of laughs, as the couple bickers and spars while Alice pushes a reluctant Henry to unleash his sensual side. But Sexy Laundry also explores the highs and lows of being in a long relationship, and the beauty that comes with accepting your partner – and yourself – for the ever-changing people you are.

Sexy Laundry plays May 22 to June 8. For tickets, click here.

Lighthouse welcomes Execulink Telecom as first-ever season presenting sponsor

For the first time in Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s 40-year history, a community-oriented local business has sponsored the entire summer season. We are proud and excited to announce Execulink Telecom as the 2019 and 2020 Season Presenter.

Execulink’s sponsorship represents an exciting union of technology and the arts that will have a direct impact on the patron experience at Lighthouse. With Execulink’s support, we will offer our patrons a free wireless hotspot in our box office lobby and Long Bar areas. Perfect for sharing photos and memories of your special night at the theatre on social media!

Execulink’s Fibre to the Home service will provide us with faster and more reliable internet access throughout our century-old building, which will help our tech crew keep things looking and sounding great on stage. Execulink’s high-speed system will also allow our office and box office teams to implement new customer service initiatives to better connect with and cater to the 50,000 theatregoers who visit us every summer, as well as our many visiting artists.

“We are thrilled to be the Season Presenter Sponsor with the Lighthouse Festival Theatre and are proud to support activities which allow youth and locals to express themselves creatively,” said Ian Stevens, President and CEO of Execulink Telecom. “This partnership is driven by our Vision, Mission and Values and focuses on supporting creative and educational activities within our local Port Dover community.”

Execulink is an enthusiastic, community-minded business founded right here in Southern Ontario. We at Lighthouse are thankful for this new partnership, which will help us continue to present residents of Port Dover, Norfolk County, and beyond with the very best in Canadian professional live theatre, while enhancing the patron experience.

“Since the first story was ever told, thousands of years ago, the purpose was to communicate an experience. To theatrically share with an audience the excitement or danger of an adventure. To educate and inspire those around us, so they in turn could learn, be entertained and flourish,” said Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel.

“Lighthouse Festival Theatre and Execulink share those same goals. One uses the power of the stage and one uses the power of the internet. The old world and the new, working together to share the human experience to those close to us. Our technology may be millenniums apart, but we stand side by side – looking to the future.”