Theatre hopes to tell Stirling’s story

Every community has a story to tell, says Stirling Festival Theatre Managing Director David Vanderlip, and here in Stirling he intends to delve deep into its history and its people with the hopes of bringing the past to life.

Vanderlip says the theatre has just submitted an application for Ontario Arts Council funding in order to commission and develop a script with a uniquely local flavour, where the community itself is expected to play a leading role. Dubbed the Stirling Community Play Project, he says if all goes according to plan, the script could receive a staged reading next year and be produced here as early as August 2015.

The idea, he explains, arose in part as a result of visits to Farmtown Park where a multi-million dollar museum collection offers a little bit of insight into the agricultural history of the region and the village itself. And with the theatre and the museum being two of the area’s prominent attractions, Vanderlip says, it makes perfect sense to take elements from each to create a community play that explores the evolution of a farming town and the very real stories behind it.

“There is a rich history here,” he says, as well as an obvious passion for it, “and Farmtown Park is a perfect example of why and how we can celebrate that.” And, he adds, with each of the museum’s displays comes a multitude of stories, about a place called home, that are intrinsically theatrical. And whether it’s a war exhibit of medals and uniforms, a century-old tractor or a schoolhouse desk, there are fascinating, heartwarming and heartbreaking tales behind each one, he says, adding while static displays are a common feature used in museums to tell of the past, theatre has the means to bring stories to life.

And while it is still early, and competition for funding is fierce, Vanderlip says he is optimistic the application is a strong one. Local journalist and playwright Richard Turtle is named as the proposed writer of the piece.

Vanderlip says Turtle’s demonstrated skill as well as his strong understanding of the area made him an ideal candidate for the project.

If the theatre is successful in receiving a development grant, he says, the co-creators will begin to seriously consider the possible scale of the final production, as well as further funding opportunities.

Ideally, Vanderlip says, the show could be produced at Farmtown Park using multiple stages both indoors and out, as well as film crews offering the choice of following the show from place to place or watching portions on a closed circuit system.

“It could potentially be a multi-media production with up to 200 actors,” he says. And in a best-case scenario, he notes, members of the community are very much expected to get involved. “It’s not a new idea,” he says of telling a community’s story with the direct involvement of its people, noting the Blyth Festival, where he worked before moving to Stirling, has often mined the local area for both material and talent.

“From what I’ve seen, there’s something pretty special here,” Vanderlip says.

EMC North East  February 7, 2013

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