Dan Needles at DCMA Sunday to unveil latest work

September 14, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Dan Needles is coming to speak at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives this Sunday, September 17 at 2 p.m. for the launch of his new book, Confessions from the Ninth Concession, a collection of his writings over 20 years for Harrowsmith, In the Hills and several other publications.

He assembled, massaged and edited the many columns – “I had an editor look over a few,” he remarked, adding that all this was because “everybody asked me to. People have been following my writing for 20 years. And Douglas and McIntyre expressed an interest in it.”

The publication of this collection of his writing is well timed as it covers the period of change over this 20 years, Dufferin’s renaissance, as it were, of the creation of the Museum, Theatre Orangeville, In the Hills Magazine and BookLore, the first cornerstone of the arts movement. Mr. Needles has a history with them all.

“My mother and her first cousin were founding members … . I can’t remember how often I’ve been here. The cousin “helped me with my ‘comic history book’.’’

The numerous family occasions, the celebrations, the connections to people and events at the museum are part of Mr. Needles’s life.

“All this has sprung up in the last 25 years. It made Dufferin County.”

Although, since his childhood, Mr. Needles has lived much of his life on a farm at Rosemont, he moved to a farm near Collingwood for “the price and the topsoil; still very pretty here with the river.”

The deep countryside, the particular wit of the farming community which dominates Mr. Needles’ Wingfield plays, is there as much as it was in Dufferin when he was sitting in coffee shops simply listening to the commentary around him and writing it directly into his plays.

“I’m not so much a writer as I am a vacuum cleaner of conversations I listen to,” he has often admitted.

Mr. Needles is famous first for his remarkable series of Wingfield plays, the initial one of which he wrote in 1985. It is written as letters to the editor of a small town newspaper from Walt Wingfield, a retired stockbroker who has recently moved to a farm.

The first play was followed by what was  supposedly intended to be three plays (“We thought a trilogy would do,” he said.) but which extended to seven.

Mr. Needles’ tales of Walt’s farm life and the people involved with that life have rocked audiences with laughter across the country over  the  years. As integrally involved with the delivery and success of the plays is Rod Beattie, who performs all the roles in the seven plays, with a magician’s skill, and is the only person to have done the plays’ hundreds of productions.

Like his multi-layered connection with the museum, so has Mr. Needles’ life been intertwined with all these elements of Dufferin County’s art centres.

Theatre Orangeville has produced all of his plays and, certainly, every one of the Wingfields were first produced there. Indeed, Mr. Needles’ new Christmas play/musical, The Last Christmas Turkey, is the coming Christmas musical at Theatre Orangeville, opening December 1.

BookLore brought him to launch his first book, “With Axe and Flask, the History of Persephone Township from Pre-Cumbrian Times to the Present,” to a crowd of people who had come to ask him which of their cousins was really  a character in his plays; he has written for many of the local publications, including In the Hills.

He even had a history tidbit about his life with this newspaper.

“I was working for the Citizen when the first editor was taken away by the police,” he laughed. “I was the only one left who could spell; so, they made me the editor.”

Whether humorous columns in a publication or plays upon the stage, a theme runs through all Mr. Needles’ work that matters to him: the continuity of family within the community and the acceptance that change is inevitable and, usually, a good thing.

“We want things to hold still,” he said, “but they don’t. You can spend a little time losing what you knew but, if you open your eyes, you’ll see the change is still okay.”

About how he decided which of his many pieces would go into the book, he explained, “I chose the ones that made me laugh.”

The tidy-up was to weed out repetitions. “There were probably 16 or 17 Christmas pieces but there are only three in the book.”

He reflected, “This book does leave a residue, a sense of the place and of family growing with the world, from party line to internet. A family connecting through a place by planting your feet and allowing your feet to stay with the soil.”

He said, “I’m the first one on my family to live on the same farm for 40 years since the 1700’s.”

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