Summer theatre returns this week

“Summer theatre has returned. The numbers are growing again, which is extremely encouraging.”

May 22, 2024

Port Dover Maple Leaf

By Jacob Fehr

LIGHTHOUSE Festival’s summer season starts this week with the opening of Norm Foster’s Doris and Ivy in the Home on Wednesday, May 22, at Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover. The Maple Leaf spoke to Lighthouse Festival artistic director Derek Ritschel to learn more about the lineup.

Asked what audiences can expect from Lighthouse this summer, Mr. Ritschel said, “Variety for sure. This year, especially with the inclusion of Mary’s Wedding in the playbook, we’re taking audiences on a bit of a rollercoaster.”

The season opens with one Norm Foster comedy and closes with the world premiere of another, Lakefront. Both promise to provide the playwright’s blend of humour and heart.

Between those shows, audiences can enjoy the farcical whodunnit Murder at Ackerton Manor, the season’s second play. Next is Mary’s Wedding, a “guaranteed tearjerker” about love, hope, and survival during World War I. The season’s fourth show is The Sweet Delilah Swim Club, a comedy about friendships over time.

In Mr. Ritschel’s opinion, it’s good for Lighthouse to diversify its plays. “You never want to repeat yourself—always looking to keep it fresh,” he said.

Jane Spence & Derek Ritschel in front of Lighthouse Festival’s Port Dover theatre.

Surrounded by comedies, Mary’s Wedding sticks out for its serious tone and topics. Mr. Ritschel admitted it is “not what people would come to recognize as summer theatre in Port Dover—[it’s] more heart than comedy.” But he thinks audiences will appreciate it.

“There are certain shows you need to do regardless of the type of show,” he said. “[Mary’s Wedding is] so bloody good it doesn’t matter what genre it is; the audience deserves to see it.”

Mr. Ritschel is directing Mary’s Wedding, which he said is his “favourite play of all time by far” and “a piece of Canadian literature that is really special.” He emphasized the show has a beautiful message and said he’s excited about working on it.

“I can’t wait for people to see it. I really can’t,” he said.

Although he thinks variety benefits Lighthouse, he also thinks it’s good for Lighthouse to know its strengths and emphasize them. That’s why it now brands itself as the “home of the Canadian sense of humour.”

“Some theatres naturally evolve to certain styles,” he explained. For example, the Blyth Festival has a rural audience and puts on many plays appealing to rural people. Over time, rurality has become part of Blyth Festival’s identity.

“When people come to Dover, they’re getting a hot dog, ice cream… [and] they’re having a great time, so just naturally Lighthouse evolved to be a place you go to see thrillers, comedies etc.,” he said. In this way, comedy is part of Lighthouse’s identity.

Lighthouse will lean into its comedic legacy with Doris and Ivy in the Home. Jane Spence, artistic associate for Lighthouse Festival, is directing the season opener.

“From all reports it’s coming along great,” Mr. Ritschel said. He shared the show’s fittingly funny origin story.

While staying briefly at a retirement home, Mr. Foster was shocked and amused to discover staff had shut down hot tubs and saunas because residents’ behaviour was “out of control” and spreading venereal diseases. The experience inspired him to write Jonas and Barry in the Home, a play about two men living in a retirement home.

Mr. Ritschel said the success of Jonas and Barry in the Home motivated Mr. Foster to further explore its setting with Doris and Ivy in the Home, which is about two women living in a retirement home.

“It’s from a female perspective so there’s equity in laughing at the experience of living in a retirement home,” he said.

He also shared an enthusiastic update about Lighthouse Festival’s ongoing rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted all its productions from 2020–2022.

“Summer theatre has returned. The numbers are growing again since COVID-19, which is extremely encouraging,” he said. “It’s nice to know Lighthouse is going to be around for a long, long time.”

“We’re headed way in the right direction, which is thrilling,” he said. “If people love and support this theatre, she’ll make it, no problem.”