Tag: port colborne

Lighthouse Festival launches summer season with Norm Foster comedy

Norm Foster’s comedic hit Doris and Ivy in the Home kicks off the 2024 summer season at Lighthouse Festival in Port Dover.

May 19, 2024

The Stratford Beacon Herald

By Postmedia Staff

Directed by Lighthouse Artistic Associate Jane Spence, the production runs from May 22 to June 8 in Port Dover, followed by shows in Port Colborne from June 12 to 23.

The play is a heartfelt comedy that examines friendship, age, and the transitions of life in a retirement home setting.

“Norm foster’s writing, rich with humour and poignancy, reminds us of the importance of seeking out meaningful connections at whatever stage of life we find ourselves,” Spence observed. “Through Doris and Ivy, we witness a dynamic and touching journey of self-discovery and companionship.

“Our talented cast brings a wonderful blend of authenticity and warmth to their roles, embodying the essence of Foster’s characters with grace and charm.”

Actor Ian Deakin portrays a charming retiree named Walter.

“I’ve known playwright Norm Foster for decades and have appeared in several of his productions,” Deakin explained. “My character in Doris and Ivy in the Home is an eccentric and heartfelt role, but essentially fulfills the playwright’s promise of lots of laughs too.”

Actress Melanie Janzen stars as the wise and witty Doris.
“Doris is very much ‘what you see is what you get.’ I like her brashness and her confidence. There’s no beating around the bush with Doris,” Janzen shared. “I could stand to be a little more like her!”

Brigitte Robinson portrays the ever-optimistic Ivy, and said she was drawn to the role for the chance to work again with director Jane Spence with whom she had acted in Calendar Girls at the Mirvish Theatre in Toronto, and with Janzen whose work she admired in their days together at the Shaw Festival.

“I thought Doris and Ivy in the Home was Norm Foster at his best,” said Robinson. “Not only is it very funny but it shines a light on the lives and relationships of women and men as they age.”

Tickets are available now at lighthousetheatre.com, by calling the box office at 1-888-779-7703 or by visiting the theatre.

Murder at Ackerton Manor pays homage to Agatha Christie with a puzzle box of laughs

By Nathaniel Hanula-James | Intermission Magazine

Thursday, May 16, 2024

“It’s Agatha Christie meets Mel Brooks.”

That’s playwright and director Steven Gallagher’s description of Murder at Ackerton Manor, a comedy homage to the mystery novels of Agatha Christie sure to leave audiences dying of laughter when it opens on June 12 at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover. 

“It’s set in 1950 on a dark and stormy night in a remote mansion,” Gallagher explained in a Zoom interview. “Megan Cinel, our set designer, is so collaborative and such a brilliant young artist. She came up with this beautiful, Gothic English country home set that looks like somebody’s real [house]. The detective is a French-Belgian detective,” which Gallagher says is a reference to Christie’s iconic character Hercule Poirot. 

Murder at Ackerton Manor Maquette – Designed by Megan Cinel

“All the tropes are in there,” Gallagher assured. “There’s a German professor, a dowdy British monarchist, a Southern belle.” Naturally, a murder ensues, and the culprit must be found. 

Step aside, Kenneth Branagh — Ackerton Manor is far from a straightforward adaptation of Christie’s novels. Virtuoso actors Eliza-Jane Scott (Lighthouse’s Jack and the Beanstalk), Andrew Scanlon (Drayton’s Peter Pan: The Panto), and Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski (Tarragon’s The Hooves Belonged to the Deer) play a total of seven roles, with quick changes and ridiculous accents galore.

“[Scanlon,] who plays the murder victim, also plays the detective,” Gallagher said. “He goes back and forth in flashbacks between the two. Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski, who’s six-foot-five, plays the Southern belle. [The costume changes] aren’t just hats. The actors leave and come on in full drag, then they leave and they come back as the next character. It’s a full quick change: costumes, wigs, everything. It’s an extra layer of fun and skill for the actors to really dig into.”

Murder mysteries aren’t a joke to Gallagher: they’re what introduced him to theatre in the first place. “I grew up in Quebec, in a small English town called North Hatley,” Gallagher shared. “It’s sort of like Muskoka in Ontario, in that a lot of wealthy people come from Montreal and go to this small town. It’s one of the only places [in Quebec] that has an English-language summer stock theatre, called the Piggery.” 

Gallagher would go to the Piggery with his mother, and one of the first shows he ever saw there was a murder mystery. Murder at Ackerton Manor is “an homage to my mom,” Gallagher continued, “and those times we spent together watching — probably not great plays — but the shows that really got me into loving, and going to, the theatre.”

When he began work on Ackerton Manor, Gallagher dove back into the genre he adored as a child. 

“I brought back all the [Agatha Christie] books that I had from when I was a kid,” said Gallagher. “I also watched about 50 episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and got my hands on every single murder mystery I could find, even Stephen Sondheim’s [film] The Last of Sheila that he wrote with Anthony Perkins in the ‘70s. I would get all these locked-room mysteries, [a genre in which it seems impossible for a killer to have entered and left a crime scene,] and try to figure out what I could steal. What are the tropes that are all the way through these things?

“My poor partner was like, ‘Are you up again to one o’clock watching another Miss Marple?’,” Gallagher laughed. He shared that his all-time favourite Christie novel is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, about the mysterious death of a wealthy widower. “It sort of turns the genre on its ear,” he teased. 

With its fusion of hijinks and homicide, Ackerton Manor is also a reimagining of not one, but two classic genres. Was blending farce and murder-mystery a difficult task for the playwright-director? 

“[Comedy and mystery] are similar,” explained Gallagher. “Both genres need to be tightly plotted and tightly written.” He added that he’s done some tinkering with the mystery at the heart of Ackerton Manor since the play’s premiere last year at the Bancroft Village Playhouse in Bancroft, Ont. “I’ve changed a couple of things plot-wise,” he said, “just to make sure that the [murderer] isn’t something that everybody guesses; or even if they do guess it, they might not know why until the end. People love that puzzle box.”

Gallagher hopes Murder at Ackerton Manor will encourage audience members to check out Lighthouse Festival’s other offerings, and demystify how much exciting theatre is happening throughout Ontario. 

“People who don’t even think they like theatre might come [see Ackerton] and say, ‘what else would I love to see?’,” he said. “Not just [a farce] but something more challenging too. We’re so used to seeing stuff in Toronto, which is amazing; but there’s a lot of other stuff happening in smaller spaces that people are flocking to.”

Murder at Ackerton Manor runs from June 12 to 29 at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover, and July 3 to 14 at the Roselawn Theatre in Port Colborne. You can purchase tickets here.

Meet the Cast of Murder at Ackerton Manor – Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski as Curtiss + other roles

Last summer, Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski wowed audiences in Mark Crawford’s Bed and Breakfast, playing a number of roles, including Brett, one of the two main protagonists. To say that Bed and Breakfast was a success would be an understatement. In fact, over 400 people came to see this production who hadn’t previously been to Lighthouse Festival before. The ability to tell stories that sometimes aren’t typically told is often the crux of what theatre is meant to do; to inspire, to teach, to convey, and to entertain. Bed and Breakfast was all of these things and more, so we’re so pleased that Adrian is back this summer, playing Curtiss and other roles in Steven Gallagher’s comedic murder-mystery, Murder at Ackerton Manor. We caught up with Adrian to talk about the best piece of advice he’s ever received, the challenge of playing multiple roles, and how he maintains his performance energy.

Maquette for Murder at Ackerton Manor
Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski as Curtiss

Lighthouse Festival (LF): Can you describe your first theatre experience from an acting perspective? 

Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski (ASG): In Grade 2 I was the narrator of my class Hallowe’en play. I dressed as a vampire with plastic fangs that made it difficult to speak. I got one of my first-ever laughs when at the top of the show I announced to the audience, in my best seven-year-old deadpan, “Excuse me. I have to take my teeth out.” 

(LF): What’s the best piece of acting advice you’ve ever received? 

(ASG): My high school drama teacher boiled acting down to this: “Inhale…AND PROJECT!” Hard to argue with that.

(LF): What are the challenges and rewards of live theatre compared to other forms of acting?

(ASG):  The obvious challenge with live theatre is that you can’t go back and undo your dumb mistakes–it’s happening in real time. But that’s part of the energy and magic that’s totally unique to live comedy. Anything can happen, and very often it does.

(LF): What are the challenges of playing multiple roles in the same production, like you did in Bed and Breakfast and will do in Murder at Ackerton Manor?

(ASG): I’m a simple man who loves doing silly voices, and switching between them is just like learning a dance or a knitting pattern, or driving stick. The real challenge with playing multiple characters is making sure I’m not having so much fun with the silly voices that I forget to think about them as real people.

(LF): How do you maintain your performance energy throughout a long run?

(ASG): There are lots of technical tricks for staying energized in a long run, like concentrating on your character’s desires and intentions, finding different points of focus every show, doing jumping jacks, and so on. But it’s actually pretty easy to keep your energy up in a great comedy, which Murder at Ackerton Manor is. Every night there’s a new audience in the house to hear our jokes, and we truly can’t wait to share them with you.

Meet the Cast of Doris and Ivy in the Home – Ian Deakin as Arthur Beech

Ian Deakin is making his Lighthouse debut in Norm Foster’s Doris and Ivy in the Home, on stage in Port Dover from May 22 to June 8 and in Port Colborne from June 12 to 23. He’s worked at Stratford Festival in a number of productions, and state side in productions on New York and Chicago stages. We chatted with Ian about what roles mentors played in his career, what drew him to the character of Arthur, and how he sees the role of theatre in today’s society.

Ian Deakin as Arthur Beech

Lighthouse Festival (LF): What role did mentors play in your career?

Ian Deakin (ID): I was lucky enough to have as my mentors some of the Theatre worlds acting royalty. John Neville, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Tony Randall, Len Cariou, to name a few.  Watching observing, listening and being encouraged and nurtured by any mentor is vital to a young actor hoping to make it in this business, and have any chance of a lengthy career. Unlike the instant gratification world surrounding much of our society now, actors must be willing to adapt. 

(LF): What drew you to this character in Doris and Ivy?

(ID): I’ve known playwright Norm Foster for decades, and have appeared in several of his productions. My character in “Doris and Ivy in the Home “ is an eccentric and heartfelt role, but essentially fulfills the playwright’s promise of lots of laughs too. And Norm has been serving up his comedy style from the very beginnings of his long and prolific career, much to the delight of audiences across Canada and around the world. 

(LF): How do you see the role of theatre in today’s society?

(ID):  Live performance is a fragile art form, and we could see that when our whole industry shut down for three years during the pandemic. We rely on an audience for our existence. It is returning  like a phoenix  from the ashes, but it is different, and will continue to evolve moving forward. We continue to fight against film and television, and for a minority of the general public’s hard earned entertainment dollar.

(LF): How do you balance personal life and the demanding schedule of theatre productions?

(ID): Life in live theatre can be difficult. You have to sacrifice home life for much travel, low wages, constant rejection, short contracts, and you are only as good as your last performance. But you make a career doing the job you love, and that is worth all the hardships that may come your way. 

(LF): What advice would you give to aspiring theatre actors?

(ID): If  have any advice for young actors, make sure you get your training before you take to the stage. Pay your dues, and don’t think stardom is either entitled or the goal. Experiencing the joys of collaboration to produce a well crafted play in truthful storytelling is what will give you the most reward.

For Immediate Release: Lighthouse Festival Presents the first production of the 2024 Summer Season, Doris and Ivy in the Home by Norm Foster

Production runs from May 22 to June 8 in Port Dover and from June 12 to June 23 in Port Colborne

Port Dover, ONMay 6, 2024 | Lighthouse Festival is excited to present the highly-anticipated production of Norm Foster’s comedic hit, Doris and Ivy in the Home. Directed by Lighthouse Artistic Associate Jane Spence, this engaging and hilarious play features the stellar talents of Ian Deakin, Melanie Janzen, and Brigitte Robinson. The production runs from May 22nd to June 8th in Port Dover, before moving to Port Colborne from June 12th to June 23rd.

Doris and Ivy in the Home is a heartfelt comedy that explores the dynamics of friendship, age, and life transitions within the walls of a retirement home. With Foster’s signature wit and empathy, the play promises to deliver both laughter and poignant moments.

Ian Deakin, playing the role of the charming retiree Walter, expressed his excitement about the project. “I’ve known playwright Norm Foster for decades, and have appeared in several of his productions. My character in Doris and Ivy in the Home is an eccentric and heartfelt role, but essentially fulfills the playwright’s promise of lots of laughs too. Norm has been serving up his comedy style from the very beginnings of his long and prolific career, much to the delight of audiences across Canada and around the world.”

Melanie Janzen, who stars as the wise and witty Doris, shared her thoughts on her character, stating, “Doris is very much ‘what you see is what you get.’ I like her brashness and her confidence. There’s no beating around the bush with Doris…I could stand to be a little more like her!”

Brigitte Robinson, taking on the role of the ever-optimistic Ivy, added, “I thought Doris and Ivy in the Home was Norm Foster at his best.  Not only is it very funny but it shines a light on the lives and relationships of women and men as they age.  What also drew me to play the part of Ivy was the chance to work with the director Jane Spence, with whom I had acted in Calendar Girls at the Mirvish Theatre in Toronto and with Melanie Janzen, whose work I had always admired in our days together at the Shaw Festival.”

Director Jane Spence praised her cast and the play. “Norm Foster’s writing, rich with humour and poignancy, reminds us of the importance of seeking out meaningful connections at whatever stage of life we find ourselves. Through Doris and Ivy, we witness a dynamic and touching journey of self-discovery and companionship.” She continues, “Our talented cast
brings a wonderful blend of authenticity and warmth to their roles, embodying the essence of Foster’s characters with grace and charm. I invite you to join us in celebrating these incredible stories—stories that are not just observed, but deeply felt.”

Lighthouse Festival’s production of Doris and Ivy in the Home offers a unique blend of humour and heart. With a talented cast and a seasoned director at the helm, this show is set to be one of the most talked-about theatrical events of the season.

Tickets are available now and can be purchased through the Lighthouse Festival’s website at www.lighthousetheatre.com, by calling the box office at 888-779-7703 or dropping by the theatre. Don’t miss your chance to experience this captivating play that promises to entertain and inspire.


Ian Deakin as Arthur
Melanie Janzen as Doris
Brigitte Robinson as Ivy

Creative Team

Director: Jane SpencePlaywright: Norm Foster
Set Designer: William ChesneyCostume Designer: Alex Amini
Lighting Designer: Kevin FraserStage Manager: Laura Grandfield
Assistant Stage Manager: Ben Tuck 

About Lighthouse Festival
Lighthouse Festival is a charitable organization devoted to the development and production of new and existing Canadian plays. Lighthouse Festival strives to be artistically excellent, support and encourage local and regional artists, and be a source of enjoyment and pride in local communities while promoting local tourism. Located in two beautiful towns on Lake Erie, our theatres operate on a central policy of hospitality, accessibility, and affordability for all.

Media Contact
For media inquiries, cast interviews and further information, please contact:

Don Kearney-Bourque
Marketing & Communications Manager
Lighthouse Festival Theatre Corporation
Direct: (226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410

For Immediate Release – New Interim Executive Director Appointment at Lighthouse Festival

April 2, 2024 – PORT DOVER, ON

We are pleased to announce that the Lighthouse Festival Theatre Corporation’s Board of Directors has appointed Caitlin O’Neill, our current Operations Coordinator, as Interim Executive Director, effective Monday, April 8th, 2024. This appointment comes as our current Executive Director, Nicole Campbell, embarks on her maternity leave beginning Friday, April 5th, 2024. The Board, alongside the entire staff of Lighthouse Festival, is thrilled to welcome Caitlin into her new role. Caitlin brings a wealth of experience and passion for the arts that is sure to lead our organization through this transitional period with grace and innovation.

Nicole Campbell (Left) & Caitlin O’Neill

We also extend our warmest wishes to Nicole during her maternity leave. We celebrate this joyous occasion with her and look forward to the new addition to her family. Nicole’s leadership and vision have been instrumental in the growth and success of Lighthouse Festival in Port Dover and Port Colborne.

Please join us in congratulating Caitlin on her new role and in wishing Nicole Campbell a safe and happy maternity leave. We are confident that the Lighthouse Festival Theatre will continue to thrive under Caitlin’s interim directorship and look forward to an exciting future ahead.

For all enquiries regarding this transition, please contact Caitlin O’Neill, Interim Executive Director, at caitlin@lighthousetheatre.com or call 226-290-0068.

It’s been a fabulous year in theatre

Plenty of great things happened on stages in 2023

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Theatre has survived the crunch of COVID-19 and a lingering reluctance by some theatregoers to return to their seats.

No matter, professional theatre companies worked hard in 2023 to woo audiences with entertaining and sometimes riveting productions. Gradually, audiences returned in greater numbers. Let’s hope this trend continues.

After seeing more than 150 shows, here in no particular order are the 12 best professional performances I saw in 2023.

”The Amen Corner.” James Baldwin’s brilliant play about religion, racism and a sometimes disturbing connection between the two made for a stunning production at the Shaw Festival, directed by Kimberley Rampersad. I saw this show in New York when it was first produced on Broadway in 1964 and what Rampersad did with it illuminated the sadness, fear and the ultimate triumph of rising above ignorance. And the gospel music she interpolated into the text at Shaw was a clever addition.

“Much Ado About Nothing.” Hamilton-born playwright Erin Shields added an insightful prologue and some welcome contemporary thinking to this Chris Abraham’s Stratford Festival production. So fine were Shields’ additions to the text you’d never know they weren’t written by Shakespeare himself.

In New York and Toronto I hated the musical “Next to Normal.” It was aggressive, angry and turgid. Then Michael Longhurst directed it at London’s Donmar Warehouse with Hamilton-born theatre star Caissie Levy in the central role. Amazing what a canny director and an actress-singer of extraordinary talents can do to make a show shimmer with new life.

“Boy Falls from the Sky.” It was smart of Theatre Aquarius to bring this intimate show to Hamilton. Jake Epstein’s recollections of a sometimes troubled theatre career came alive under Robert McQueen’s insightful staging and dramaturgy.

Stephen Sondheim was the greatest theatre composer-lyricist of our time. Trenchant, rueful and oh so witty, he made you laugh and cry. The London tribute show to his genius, starring Lea Salonga, Bernadette Peters and Janie Dee, along with vintage British theatre stars Bonnie Langford and Joanna Riding, was sensational. And at the end when they projected Sondheim’s craggy face on a giant screen there wasn’t a dry eye in the Gielgud Theatre.

“Pollyanna The Musical” at Theatre Aquarius brought laughter and love to Hamilton at Christmastime. Local playwright and lyricist Steven Gallagher and composer Linda Barnett fashioned a score reminiscent of Broadway during its Golden Age. This was a great big Christmas present of a show.

“Bed and Breakfast” at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre delivered touching contemporary theatre. Mark Crawford’s comedy about two gay guys opening a bed and breakfast in a bigoted Ontario town was sensitively acted by Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski and Warren Macauley. It was moving, funny and inclusive. And bah humbug to the bigots who walked out.

“La Dame Aux Camelias.” This stunning ballet by Baden, Ontario choreographer Peter Quanz for Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens was superb. It had lovely lyrical choreography, riveting storytelling and elegant yet simple sets and costumes. Quanz is a gem and should be working in Canada, not some foreign country. What’s that about a prophet without honour in his own country?

Dundas actor, singer, composer and lyricist Jay Turvey directed a seductive production of “Gypsy” at the Shaw Festival. Too bad his star Kate Hennig softened her Mama Rose, unlike Angela Lansbury and Ethel Merman, who burned a patch off the stage by delineating her demons and ruthless, selfish determination.

“To Kill A Mockingbird.” Though the Mirvish Series in Toronto has sadly sold out to loud and overhyped musicals, their Off-Mirvish Series offered a moving production of Aaron Sorkin’s new play based on Harper Lee’s beloved novel. Richard Thomas was touching as Atticus Finch and the show had a quality Broadway feel to it in every way. More of this please Mr. Mirvish.

Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along” has finally come into its own. In New York at the Hudson Theatre this is the hit of the New York Season. And in the cast, right alongside Daniel Radcliffe, is local actor Evan Alexander Smith, currently understudying one of the show’s lead roles. Here’s another actor from the Hamilton area who has taken a bite out of The Big Apple.

Close to home Stephen Near’s beguiling play “Whale Fall” played a short run at the HCA theatre. This touching drama about a daughter, climate change and the way the world can spin suddenly out of control featured wonderful performances from Stephanie Hope Lawlor and Ray Louter. It was also beautifully directed by Aaron Joel Craig. Talk about local theatre folks having professional polish.

Whatever 2024 happens to bring our way theatrically, let’s hope more seats will be filled at theatres everywhere and daring risk-taking shows will come our way.

A very Happy New Year to you dear readers — and may your theatregoing in the year ahead fill your hearts with laughter, love and the joy of live performance.

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for 40 years as well as for a variety of international publications. gsmith1@cogeco.ca.

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto

By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press

December 14, 2023

PORT COLBORNE — If your holiday season has been light on laughter so far, you should run, not walk, to Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre and catch Lighthouse Festival’s first-ever holiday pantomime production, Jack and the Beanstalk, before its final show runs on December 17.

The Panto is an interesting experiment for Lighthouse. Setting the tone immediately, the show actively encourages audience participation, with characters interacting directly with those off the stage and music cues telling the audience to boo the villain, throw out ridiculous animal calls, yell advice to characters, and sing along with those on stage.

Eliza-Jane Scott, Sal Figliomeni & Stephen Ingram in Ligthouse Festival’s pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk (December 2023)

It’s a truly fun and unique evening that is sure to please the younger crowd with bright sets, inventive lighting, and over-the-top costumes and performances, while the older crowd is sure to enjoy the show’s onslaught of zingers. The talented cast is game for all the silliness, bringing affable charm to their over-the-top caricatures.

As Jack, Eliza-Jane Scott brings a snot-nosed, Bart Simpson-esque energy to the classic role of the boy duped into selling his cow for a bag of magic beans. His mother, Dame, played by Sal Figliomeni in a tour-de-force performance with no less than 10 impressive costume changes, shines in a role designed to wring every single laugh possible out of the premise of an aging Italian man playing a female protagonist.

If you’ve seen Disney’s animated Robin Hood movie, then you’ll recognize that movie’s snively king in Allan Cooke’s performance as he plays, well, a snively king. With the role, Cooke adds another memorable comedic character to his long and impressive list of Lighthouse performances, having most recently been seen as one of a pair of bumbling thugs in the theatre’s summer-ending show ‘A Pack of Thieves’.

As the aptly named Villain, Cyrus Lane brings a 1930s gangster, scene-chewing energy to a hilariously over-the-top depiction of corporate greed in his Lighthouse debut. His desire to tear down farmland and replace it with “condos, condos, condos as far as the eye can see” seems tailor-made to get Haldimand Norfolk residents booing him with gusto from their seats.

We would be remiss not to mention Stephen Ingram, the show’s Music Director and on-stage narrator. Ingram wanders in and out of the show amiably, always singing a catchy song, and he keeps the show moving at a brisk pace, playing the keyboard with ease and adding musical flair to the show’s sharp comedy.

Director Jonathan Ellul keeps everything moving at a frantic pace, and although the actions unfolding onstage are undeniably silly, the show itself is well-paced and well-produced, shined to a polish. Every sound cue hits right on time, with backstage rimshots aplenty timed to the show’s many intentionally silly dad jokes, and the show has a lot of visual creativity on display, including the titular beanstalk which impressively rises to the rafters to end the show’s first half.

It’s easy to see why Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel has been pumping up this production all year. It really is a great, local option for families looking for something to do together during the holidays, and we hope this year’s inaugural panto is just the first in a new local tradition to cherish.

For tickets and more information, visit lighthousetheatre.com.

After studying journalism at Humber College, Mike Renzella desired to write professionally but found himself working in technical fields for many years. Beginning in 2019 as a freelancer, he joined the team full-time later that year. Since then, Mike has won several awards for his articles thanks to his commitment to presenting an unbiased, honest look at the important news and events shaping our community.

Meet the Cast of Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto! | Katie Edwards as The Princess

Meet Katie Edwards! She’s graced the Lighthouse stage as Grace in RUM RUNNERS and as Danny in ONE MOMENT but she’s very excited to be starring in Lighthouse Festival’s first Pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk. We chatted about what she does before going on stage, why she wanted to be involved in our pantomime and how she’s similar/different from her character.

Katie Edwards

Lighthouse Festival (LF): Why did you want to be involved in this production?

Katie Edwards (KE): I’ve had the privilege of performing with Jonny Ellul two times throughout my career. I think he is one of the kindest and most creative artists I’ve ever worked with. So, when I heard that Jonny was directing a panto at the Lighthouse, all I could think was, “That show is going to be so much fun. I have to be a part of it!”

(LF): What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage/the curtain goes up? 

(KE): I recite any monologues I have in the show to make sure I haven’t forgotten any lines!

(LF): How is your character like you? Different?

(KE): I think the princess and I are quite similar, as we both like to fight for marginalized communities and we love the great outdoors. How are we different? Alas, I am not royalty, nor am I trained in hand-to-hand combat, sword fighting, ju jitsu and karate.

(LF): If you had a magic wand, what show would you do next?

(KE): Definitely Urinetown!

(LF): What sort of person is going to love this show?

(KE): Anyone of any age who enjoys funny, musical entertainment.

Lighthouse Theatre preview: This ain’t your grandparent’s Jack and the Beanstalk…

By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press

November 23, 2023

PORT DOVER—This holiday season, Port Dover’s famous Lighthouse Festival Theatre is offering something new. Adding to their highly successful and frequently hilarious summer festival series, the creative team at Lighthouse is proud to present a new annual tradition: the holiday pantomime (panto for short).

This year’s inaugural offering, Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto, is playing in Dover from November 29 to December 9 and at Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre from December 13-17.

While Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel has been thrilled to see the show develop behind the scenes, bringing together a mix of skilled comedic actors from across Lighthouse’s summer season, he said so far it’s been a bit of a tougher sell to the general public.

Allan Cooke & Katie Edwards rehearse a scene of Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto!

The common hurdle he’s faced has been the perception that the show is aimed at children. Not the case at all, noted Ritschel, describing the show, in essence, as, “How would a comedy sketch team do Jack and the Beanstalk?”

Show director Jonathan Ellul elaborated, characterizing the upcoming production as, “Imagine everything you love about the Muppet show, the Gong Show, and Buggs Bunny and you’re getting closer to what this show is going to be like! And the audience is as busy as the actors on stage cheering the good guys, and heckling the villain, and singing along.”

Ritschel added, “It’s a fairytale for adults. The kids can come too. Kids can always come to a panto.… The actors are using Jack and the Beanstalk as a loose storyline to follow and to mine for laughs.”

For those needing further explanation, picture the popular animated film series Shrek, which similarly takes familiar fairytale characters and then applies a Saturday Night Live style comedy approach as it skewers its source material.

“It’s just so good,” said Ritschel. “I really want people to see this show.”

Both Ellul and Ritschel know they have their work cut out for them, but they are looking ahead and excited about building the panto into a new beloved local tradition for families in the area.

“My wish is that after the show people will talk about it and think, ‘next year we’ll bring the grandparents too’, or ‘my sisters’ family will love this, let’s all go together next year’,” said Ellul.

Ritschel added, “We just need those people that come to have a good laugh and spread the word. What more can we ask for? When the team finally came together, we felt super confident that we may not have the biggest audiences because no one knows what the heck we’re doing, but the people that do come are about to have their heads blown off.”

While hopeful that this year’s panto comes out of the gate hot, Ritschel and his team have the patience to let their baby grow. 

“The next couple of years will be the education years,” said Ritschel. “Three years from now you won’t be able to get a ticket to the panto. In the UK, they sell their pantos out eight months in advance.”

Ellul called the creative process a “different sort of animal” than a regular production. 

“This script was written for the actors who were cast in the roles. Ken MacDougall has worked with most of the cast and knows their voices and humour, and he has written the script with those actors in mind,” explained Ellul. “Then when we go into the process of rehearsing and putting it on its feet, the actors improvise and riff on what was already written. You wouldn’t do that in a scripted play. Here, that’s what it’s all about!”

Sal Figliomeni & Eliza-Jane Scott rehearse a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto!

Ritschel praised the skilled cast: “In the summer, we expect the actors to be word-perfect to the script, but here, there’s a lot of improv. They’ll do the storyline, but if something happens, if the audience reacts a certain way, the actors are 100% prepared to go off-script. They almost always do.”

Ellul added, “The cast is a group of very smart and funny people. I have worked with all of them before, but this is the first time most of them have worked together. Their inventive approach and willingness to play has created a tight ensemble already!”

He encouraged the younger crowd to wear costumes to the shows, noting, “If you are the sort of person who likes to wear sparkly dresses, and fairy wings, and rainbow unicorns? This is the show to dress up in those costumes for! We have a princess and fairy who would love to see young people dressed up! We even love seeing ninja-turtles and Hogwarts costumes! This is the place to wear those awesome threads! All you need to do is show up, and we will make it worth your while! We can’t wait to see you!”

Ritschel concluded, “It’s comedy for the whole family. There’s nothing more powerful than seeing grandparents, parents, and kids, the whole generational span of a family laughing together. I don’t know how much more powerful that can be, especially in today’s day and age where we all need a laugh, and we need holiday cheer.”

For more information on Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto or to purchase tickets, visit lighthousetheatre.com or call their box office at 519-583-2221.

After studying journalism at Humber College, Mike Renzella desired to write professionally but found himself working in technical fields for many years. Beginning in 2019 as a freelancer, he joined the team full-time later that year. Since then, Mike has won several awards for his articles thanks to his commitment to presenting an unbiased, honest look at the important news and events shaping our community.

‘Just bring your joy’: Inside Lighthouse Theatre’s new all-ages holiday pantomime

By Nathaniel Hanula-James | Intermission Magazine

Friday, November 24, 2023

“There are no mimes in pantomime.

So said Derek Ritschel, artistic director of Lighthouse Festival, in an interview with Intermission. Next week, the company opens Jack and the Beanstalk, a production Ritschel hopes will inaugurate a new tradition in the Port Dover and Port Colborne communities that Lighthouse serves: an annual holiday pantomime.

Although the pantomime — or “panto,” for short — is a thriving tradition with a long history, especially in the UK, it’s relatively little-known in Canada. According to Ritschel and Jack and the Beanstalk’s director Jonathan Ellul, the confusion of mime with pantomime is a common misconception. “I would say that 85 per cent of our audience has no idea what a panto is,” said Ritschel. 

But if a panto isn’t the Marcel Marceau-show, what the heck is it? 

“It’s as though the Muppets were going to do their version of Jack and the Beanstalk, but we got hold of the script,” said Ellul. “In terms of the humour, I always think panto must have been the precursor for all those Bugs Bunny cartoons. It’s a heightened telling of a familiar story, and it’s going to go every which way.” 

In other words, a pantomime takes a well-known fairy tale, throws it in a blender, and adds a healthy dose of zany hijinks. A traditional pantomime features a “pants role,” or a young male hero played by a woman, as well as a “pantomime dame” in drag. (Though the latter role is “more Miss Piggy than RuPaul,” said Ellul.) 

Panto hallmarks also include a good fairy, an over-the-top villain, original songs, a slapstick chase scene, contemporary references to the local community, and plenty of audience participation. (A classic example: yelling “THERE’S A MONSTER BEHIND YOU!” at a dim-witted character who just won’t take the audience’s advice.) Theatregoers can expect all this and more from Lighthouse Festival’s Jack and the Beanstalk.

If the experience sounds overwhelming, fear not. The level of panto knowledge required of a first-time audience member is none whatsoever. “We’re going to be setting up those things within the show,” Ellul assured me. “The audience member who’s never seen [a panto] will be able to fully partake.” 

There’s no question that Jack in the Beanstalk’s audiences will be in good hands: Ellul and Ritschel have assembled a dazzling team of Canadian comic talent. The cast of seven includes Eliza-Jane Scott as Jack, Cyrus Lane as the Villain, and Lori Nancy Kalamanski as the Fairy. “It’s been amazing for me to watch how they’re feeding off each other and coming together as an ensemble,” Ellul confided. “It’s been amazing to watch seven individual clowns develop.” 

According to Ellul, once playwright Ken MacDougall knew the casting, he tailored the script to fit the voices and talents of each actor. Even so, Ellul continued, “the script is very much a blueprint. There’s a setup and a joke, with the caveat that, if you’ve got a better one, let’s hear it in the rehearsal room. [The actors] didn’t waste a second.” 

On the day I spoke to Ellul and Ritschel, comic genius had struck twice. Eliza-Jane Scott had “realized that Jack didn’t have a moment where he kind of encapsulated everything,” Ellul told me. “So she went home and wrote a song based on a line that was in the script and summarized… everything that [Jack] had been through. She sent it as an email and I was listening…on my phone in a restaurant. I was laughing so hard I was in convulsions, all by myself — I looked like a crazy man in hysterics in the corner.”

Meanwhile, Ellul continued, Lane had completely rewritten the lyrics for the Villain’s big musical number, “and made it current and topical.” 

Pantomime’s embrace of improvisation means the show will keep transforming even after it opens. “The panto is like the ultimate playground for theatre,” said Ritschel. You get to interact with the audience and feed off [their] energy. If the audience gives you something that night, it’s going to be a different show.”

Unlike in more serious theat-ah, “the greatest gift that can happen is that somebody’s cellphone goes off in the audience,” Ellul added. “These [actors] will stop and say, ‘you better get it.’” 

Ellul and Ritschel took care to stress that all this fairy-tale funny business isn’t just for kids: this Jack and the Beanstalk has jokes for all ages. In fact, one of Panto’s superpowers is its ability to get every generation cackling. 

“I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than seeing three generations of a family laugh together in a theatre,” said Ritschel. “That doesn’t happen in other genres.”

Although this is the first time Lighthouse Theatre has staged a holiday panto, Ritschel and Ellul hope this is only the beginning of a new tradition. 

“The best thing I could hope for,” said Ellul, “is that people come out with a seed planted…‘Next year we’re bringing the grandparents, too.’” 

Panto “doesn’t care where you’re from,” insisted Ritschel. “[It] doesn’t care what other theatres you go to. It doesn’t care what your age is. Doesn’t care what your background is.”

So what does pantomime care about? 

“Joy,” said Ritschel. “Don’t worry about anything else. Just bring your joy.”

Jack and the Beanstalk opens at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover on November 30 and runs until December 9. In Port Colborne, the production opens at the Roselawn Theatre on December 13 and runs until December 17. You can learn more about the show here.

Magic Beans and Katie Edwards are set loose in Port Dover theatre’s ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’

Rehearsing is a blast and she has never laughed so much in all her life, Edwards tells Gary Smith.

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Katie Edwards grew up watching her mom and dad act on local theatre stages.

“I have so many memories of watching them rehearse when I was quite young. I watched them in awe, feeling so proud to be related to them.”

Along the way, she just knew she would have to find her own place on a theatre stage one day.

“After watching my parents perform, it meant so much for me to follow in their footsteps. My parents’ passion for theatre greatly impacted my need to pursue a professional career in the arts.

“I had been a very busy kid. My parents enrolled me in children’s programs at Theatre Aquarius and at Student Theatre in Burlington. These were great, but my real joy was actually being on stage. My first show was in Village Theatre Waterdown in1997. It was called ‘Clowns.’ I was nine years old.

“By the time I got to high school, the stage was one of the few places I felt calm and confident.”

For Edwards, performing is a gateway to freedom.

“It gives me a creative outlet and allows me to escape my own reality and play characters that I admire. I love playing strong, courageous, intelligent characters and I hope they empower young girls in the audience, as much as they have empowered me.”

Allan Cooke as The King & Katie Edwards as The Princess rehearsing a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto! at Lighthouse Festival’s Rehearsal Hall in Port Dover.

Edwards is getting ready to put on another princess dress and help Jack fight the giant in Port Dover’s Lighthouse Theatre production of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

“It’s a pantomime and some people aren’t quite familiar with what that means. It’s not a silent mime show. It’s a musical comedy that includes singing and dancing, topical jokes and stock characters. It’s typically based on a well-known fairytale. Pantos are great fun because they provide dual entertainment for children and adults, by incorporating double entendres and adult humour into a children’s story. It’s also a form of participation theatre. The audience is encouraged to boo and heckle the villain, shout out to the performers, and sing along with some of the songs. I can’t wait to get in front of an audience with this show because they are such a big part of what happens.”

Edwards says rehearsing is a blast and she has never laughed so much in all her life.

“Working in the theatre is a challenge,” Edwards says. “It’s challenging to earn enough from theatre work alone. Some years all my money came from theatre contracts but I wasn’t able to save for my future. It took me a while but I realized I have many different passions and I didn’t have to choose just one of them. I went back to school 10 years ago to study sociology and women’s studies at York University. Since then, I have worked as a choreographer, director, drama and mindfulness teacher, theatre workshop facilitator and fundraiser. I’ve even written a few shows. Right after graduation I was asked to co-write the university’s orientation play on consent, which was a wonderful way for me to combine my education in women’s studies and theatre.”

Edwards has starred in “Anne” at Theatre Orangeville, playing Anne of Green Gables. She has played Grace in Rum Runners at Port Dover and was in Ross Petty’s Toronto pantomime “The Wizard of Oz.”

Sal Figliomeni at Jack’s Mum (background), Lori Nancy Kalamanski as The Fairy, and Katie Edwards as The Princess, at the Lighthouse Festival Rehearsal Hall in Port Dover working on a scene for Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto! coming to the stage on November 29th to December 17th in Port Dover and Port Colborne.

“That one was my intro to panto,” Edwards says. “They are probably my favourite type of show to perform in.”

Edwards is philosophical about life and the arts world she inhabits.

“I took a break from acting for several years to gain experience in other fields. I’ve stayed connected to theatre by teaching drama and mindfulness classes at Forma Theater in Toronto. When COVID-19 hit, I felt very fortunate to have a stable job, as the pandemic was particularly challenging for actors.”

“Two years ago, my partner and I moved to Hamilton and we had our beautiful son Jamie. I love being a mom more than anything, but it does make it challenging. Almost every gig I’ve landed has been outside the city I’ve lived in. Of course, right now I’m living in Port Dover and I can only see my two-year-old on weekends. But, from the moment I was asked to be involved in this show I had to say yes. I just couldn’t turn it down. And I am so excited for my son to see the show and to have him watch me up there on the stage the way I used to watch my mom and dad when I was little.”

Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto

Where Lighthouse Festival Theatre, 247 Main St., Port Dover

When Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 1-9 at 7:30 p.m., matinees Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 2-3 and 5, 7, 8, 9. at 2 p.m.

Tickets From $34 adults. Children and students under 18 from $30. Call 1-888-779-7703 or lighthousetheatre.com

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for 40 years as well as for a variety of international publications. gsmith1@cogeco.ca.