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David Nairn starring in play ‘1812’ at Foster Festival




By Constance Scrafield

“It is lovely to be back on stage,” Theatre Orangeville's Artistic Director told us from Niagara on the Lake, where he is staying during the show, 1812 by Norm Foster, which he is performing in. “The last time was three years ago in Midsummers Night's Dream.”

That was the unique and exceptional production of Shakespeare's comedy produced by Theatre Orangeville's Young Company in August, 2019 on the Island Lake Waterfront Amphitheatre in Island Lake Conservation Area.

Of 1812, Mr. Nairn, playing the role of the patriarch and the mayor of St. Stephen, remarked, “We've found our groove and now we're into the second week.”

All the shows are evening performances starting at 7:00 p.m. The shows this week ran from Tuesday to Thursday (today) and next week performances begin Friday (tomorrow) June 17 and run until the closing day, Thursday, June 23. As an outdoor performance, it is subject to possible rain dates. Opening night was rained out and rescheduled, which is the plan in case of future rainy cancellations.

David Nairn said, “It's really unique to be doing it in Fort George on the 210th anniversary of the declaration of war in 1812. This is a play about two small communities on either side of the Canadian/American border that don't want to fight.”

In brief, Mr. Foster offers a story about two small towns, St. Stephen in New Brunswick and Calais in Maine, for which the shared border has been a barrier in theory only when in fact, citizens have always passed back and forth over the adjoining bridge freely. Now they are confronted with the order to fight each other because their countries are at war but they don't want to. So, the mayors of the two towns meet and agree they are not going to war.

How much the idea of war changes their relationships and defines them is handled by the very reliable Norm Foster with witty dialogue and plenty of food for thought.

“Even now,” Mr. Nairn commented, “there is still very much a sense that they [the two towns] are really just one community.”

As the play is staged in a national historic site, there are the add-ons of historically relevant demonstrations, wine tours and ghost walks. Mostly taking place before the show, costumed staff at Fort George discuss various aspects of life at the fort 200 years ago. It is after tomorrow's show that there is a ghost tour to spots where the phantoms have been spotted. After all, what is the good of an antique fort where men have lived and died without a few ghosts to commemorate them?

“There's a really great vibe in the space,” David Nairn observed. “Two hundred years ago they were shooting at each other.” But... “about this war, nobody understood it or how it was declared over.”

Speaks volumes. 

Naturally, Mr. Foster does not resist bringing a love story into the whole and this one of mixed race, raising the same sort of comments that might still surface today.

“Romantic mix race black male and white female, with that discussion. It is always wonderful to do Norm,” said Mr. Nairn. “The audiences have really been enjoying it with the unique creative opportunities of being outside for the set and lighting during each performance.” 

He went on to tell the Citizen about the somewhat struggle between the show and a family of swallows who have a nest within the parameters of the set, “I don't [know] how pleased they are about us being there. They're not above dive bombing one of the crew.” Emily Oriold the founding executive director and artistic producer of the Foster Festival has had a hand in the creative organization of the show and we are assured that “The audiences are really taken with it.”

It is fun to consider that the officers of Fort George performed in a show, in 1815, called John Bull, a character created by the British to incite patriotism of which Uncle Sam is the American version. A stout chap with a Union Jack waistcoat or Stars and Stripes.

“Here we over two hundred years later in the very spot the officers performed then,” he pointed out.

He had high praise for the creative team and the crew, citing the opportunities offered by doing the show as an outdoor production, building the set within the structure of the fort building and designing the lighting and the sound, saying the actors are all mic'd.

Norm Foster has written 10 plays over the Covid-19 years 2020/21 and he shared 1812 with his good friend, David Nairn shortly after he wrote it.

“... in which is the much put-upon idiot husband, I thought it [the play] was really delightful ...a wonderful story with real social relevance. When the Foster Festival decide to do the play, they did a reading and I was asked to be the part of Wallace Edwards, the patriarch and mayor of St. Stephen. Then they offered it to me,” admitting “there's been a bit of stress. We rehearsed in St Catharines [at the arts centre where the plays are usually performed] but Fort George is in Niagara on the Lake directly across the road from the Shaw Festival.”

The National Historical Site of Fort George is located in Niagara on the Lake, a short distance from Niagara Falls. It overlooks the Niagara River and Fort Niagara across the river in the United States.

David Nairn told us he is billeted with a couple and is actually staying in the Town of Niagara Falls.

“My morning walk is to the falls,” he said, “The most wonderful time is taken to my little bench that I sit on. It's so wonderful to sit there for a short while. One hears so many different languages and sees so many people of different ethnic backgrounds and their excitement of being here for the first time. Maybe those of us living here in Southern Ontario have been here many times and sort-of take it for granted.

“It's great to hear their voices enjoying the freshness of it.”

Norm Foster's play 1812, starring David Nairn, Edmond Clark, Ellen Denny, Jesse Dwyre, Lisa Horner and Patricia Yeatman and directed by Jim Mazon is on at the Foster Festival, playing evenings only at Fort George. For all the details, go to www.fosterfestival.com or call them at 289-786-0950 x23.

 

 


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