St. Catharines Scores A Cultural Hat-trick Hosting The Norm Foster Festival
© Mike Keenan
Her voice brims over with enthusiasm. Patricia Vanstone is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of The Foster Festival - Humour With Heart, and there is plenty for her about which to be excited.
In December 2014, she struck a deal that fashioned St. Catharines and its new Performing Arts Centre, (Patricia refers to it as a jewel) into the annual setting for The Foster Festival, "a perfect venue for working class people in an area that has always attracted Norm with its wine, eco and bike tourism." She adds that she is thrilled with "the revitalized downtown and success of our restaurant partners." "I hope the Festival runs 40-50 more years," Patricia exclaims!
Patricia tells me that Norm guaranteed her the right of first refusal for all of his world premieres and that she is currently producing this year's premiere, Halfway to the North Pole, featuring four ladies whose lives become unhinged thanks to a Toronto doctor, Sean Merrit, newly dumped by his fiancée and looking to leave his troubles far behind in the small town of Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, located - you guessed it - exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole.
The other two Foster plays in this inaugural season are Here on the Flight Path directed by Blair Williams of Shaw Festival fame, starring Melanie Janzen and Jamie Williams and On a First Name Basis starring Norm and Patricia.
Patricia and Norm became connected in 1984 when cast in The Melville Boys, at Theatre New Brunswick, Foster's first big hit. They clicked and worked together in seven plays, and with 35 years experience as an actor and director, she says that their "chemistry has seen them perform everywhere from the Turks and Caicos to Fort McMurray."
"Norm has become a mentor to young writers," says Patricia, and these two successful collaborators would like to employ as much local talent as possible which can only be good for Niagara thespians.
"A happy accident," she terms the merging of the newly built PAC and their serendipitous discovery of a brand new home for their festival. She jokingly refers to it as "David vs. Goliath" when I ask about Shaw Festival competition, but having attended several of Norm's witty plays, there's good reason why he is regarded as Canada's "most productive and well-loved playwright." In fact, I think that David will acquit himself quite well in this encounter, and that St. Catharines might soon join the theatre big league as a result. On average, an incredible 150 productions of Norm's plays are featured yearly. Even William Shakespeare might be impressed with that prodigious number.
Norm has written 52 plays is currently working on three new ones. It's obvious that he does not suffer from writer's block! His works include The Foursome, The Melville Boys, Wrong For Each Other, The Love List, Outlaw, Skin Flick, Hilda's Yard, Old Love, The Ladies Foursome, The Affections Of May, Jasper Station, And Mending Fences. He is the recipient of the Los Angeles Drama-League Award for his play, The Melville Boys and in 2009 he was a finalist for the Premier's Award For Excellence In The Arts.
Check out the Foster Festival website for some neat Niagara video reactions to Norm Foster's work:
PAC might soon stand for: Pretty Amazing Content
Halfway To The North Pole - August 10, 2016 - August 27, 2016
Directed by Patricia Vanstone, Starring Kirsten Alter, Lisa Horner, Darren Keay, Sheila McCarthy, and Helen Taylor
Set & Costume Design by Sue LePage
Lighting Design by Chris Malkowski