Foster Festival opens this week in St. Catharines

June 16, 2016   ·   0 Comments

Norm Foster fans, and, after all, who isn’t, will be delighted to learn that a Foster Festival has finally been established.

It is the first of its kind inasmuch as it celebrates the work of a living playwright. Coming into the newly finished First Ontario Performing Arts Centre, a fabulous conception with three theatres and a film hall and stage in St. Catharines, the Foster Festival has begun its life having found a home at the outset.

“We are summer tenants of the Arts Centre,” said Emily Oriold, co-founder of the festival, along with Patricia Vanstone and Mr. Foster himself. For Opening Night this week: today, actually, the festival is being launched with On a First Name Basis which was premiered at Theatre Orangeville in April, 2013.

The coming together of this festival has three stories.

Ms. Oriold calls them “the creation story.” It was she whose version of such a festival won the day. She explained her own history with the notion to us. “Really, how it began for me after my graduation in 1997 from high school,” she related, “I saw Melville Boys at Blythe Festival, [sitting] in the front row and got swept up into Norm’s world. By the end of the show, I was bawling my eyes out and that stayed with me.

“I did theatre school in Toronto, living in an apartment. I thought about a festival about our own Norm. So, I designed a logo because that’s just me.”

Ms. Oriold, carried the logo and the idea with her for a few years during which, among others,  she had a job as a manager in public relations.

Then, she and her husband, Darren, went to Morrisburg to see a Norm Foster play and she decided to get in touch with him with her ideas about a festival.

From Mr. Foster, we heard: “There have been several people who approached me with the idea of a festival but they didn’t have a plan,” whereas, Ms. Oriold had a logo and good ideas.

Patricia Vanstone was in the first production of Melville Boys, Mr. Foster’s second play, which premiered in Fredericton, New Brunswick in 1984 and set Mr. Foster’s career on the road to success. Ms. Vanstone was also the director of the production which stirred such admiration in the youthful imagination of Ms. Oriold, years later.

Once Ms. Oriold and Mr. Foster considered the festival a possibility, he suggested Ms. Vanstone for the position of Artistic Director and, thus, this magic team came together to form the founding of the Foster  Festival in St. Catharines in December, 2014, from which bright moment followed an “18- month journey.”

Building and establishing the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre into the life of St. Catharines has completely instigated a renewal of the down town with a reinvigoration of shops, cafes and restaurants.

Of its suitability for the Festival, Ms. Vanstone commented, “It’s so accessible. There’s so much here in the heart of Niagara. First Ontario Arts Centre has revitalized St. Catharine’s – everything is ready.”

Financing begin with Meridian Credit Union as founding sponsor. The Trillium Foundation came on board as did the Ontario Arts Council.

So has the momentum amounted to the realization of this, the Festival’s initial season.

There is no doubt about the hard work involved in putting this all together. Primarily, the shows themselves are the centre of attention for they must be the best, most professional, top notch. It is the ultimate draw to people to come to the festival.

Said Ms. Vanstone, “We think we will do well when they [audiences] see what we’re doing here. The tour companies will include on their tours. There are some coming already.”

The first play to be performed, On a First Name Basis, has its history too with these friends and colleagues, as Ms. Vanstone told us: “I bugged Norm to write the ‘Trish play’ about the really bossy girl and then – ‘you can write what you like for yourself,’  I told him. And so, he  wrote this one.”

Mr Foster and Ms. Vanstone are the stars in On a /first Name Basis, a two actor production about a curmudgeonly author and his secretary of 28 years. The play concerns itself with the conversation, the revelation that they have about the differences in their knowledge of each other: she knows everything about him; he, on the contrary, knows nothing about her, after all these years. Fascinating, very clever, Foster-captivating.

There are three plays in all for the summer season that is the festival’s schedule, each running somewhat less than three weeks: On a First Name Basis, Here on the Flight Path and the new Foster play, Half Way to the North Pole, which is not a Christmas play, as Mr. Foster did tell us. He is now committed to premiering all his new plays in the festival.

In order to encourage people to come from far and wide, they have purposefully kept the price of the tickets as reasonable of those of, for example, Theatre Orangeville.

There has been tremendous support from the local merchants and business people who obviously understand the benefits this festival can bring to their town.

“People have just been  great about it,” Ms. Oriold said with satisfaction.

Another of the firsts brought to light by the Festival is their Foster Festival App, available free for Androids and iPhones through Google Play and the Apple Store. Discounts from many of the stores and eateries, lots of information and tickets are all a part of the app package.

Now that the opening is at hand and the playwright stands as ready as he’s going to be to receive his friends, fans, well-wishers, we sought a comment.

“I’m surprised and thrilled [at the enthusiasm],” Norm Foster assured us. “It’s overwhelming.”

“I wished they had waited ’til I died,” he joked.

For details, tickets, everything you need to know online or call 1-855-515-0722.

Written by Constance Scrafield

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