There’s plenty of theatre in store for Canadians this summer outside of Stratford

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Illustration by Hayden Maynard

Looking for outside-the-box theatre off the beaten path this summer? Try these companies and festivals from British Columbia to Newfoundland.

Blyth Festival

Blyth, Ont.

June 12 to Sept. 7

This influential new-work theatre company in Blyth, Ont., less than an hour’s drive from Stratford, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Run by artistic director Gil Garrett, this rural festival grew rather than shrunk its footprint during the pandemic: It now produces both indoors at the 500-seat Blyth Memorial Hall and at an outdoor amphitheatre built in 2021 called the Harvest Stage. This summer, The Farm Show: Then and Now, an update of the legendary Theatre Passe Muraille play that led to the birth of festival, will revisit Clinton County’s famous theatrical history, while The Trials of Maggie Pollock, veteran playwright Beverley Cooper’s new show about the last woman in Canada to be convicted of witchcraft, shines a light on a little-known bit of local history. Though Blyth shows are often hyper-local in subject matter, that hasn’t stopped them from being produced across the country afterward. (Sophia Fabiilli’s Liars at a Funeral and Mark Crawford’s The New Canadian Curling Club are a couple of recent much-produced hits that originated here.)

Caravan Farm Theatre

Near Armstrong, B.C.

July 9 to Aug. 5

A visit to this 46-year-old theatre company that operates on an 80-acre farm just outside Armstrong – a little more than an hour’s drive from either Kamloops or Kelowna – is on many Canadian theatregoers’ bucket list. This year, artistic director Estelle Shook directs The Bear and The Proposal: An Okanagan Wedding Party, her adaptation of two stories by Anton Chekhov, relocated to the Okanagan circa the 1800s. The acting company features seasoned veterans from some of the biggest stages in the country including Kevin Bundy, Sheldon Elter and Jani Lauzon.

Festival TransAmériques

Montreal

May 22 to June 5

The absence of Just for Laughs (which is experiencing financial difficulties) will be felt this summer in Montreal. But the city’s great festival season goes on, kicking off with this avant-garde dance and theatre event that is now both cool and conscientious as run by co-artistic directors Martine Dennewald and Jessie Mill. Tiago Rodrigues, the current director of France’s Festival Avignon, is the big European star visiting, with a large-scale production of a provocative play titled Catarina and the Beauty of Killing Fascists (presented in Portuguese with English and French surtitles). Meanwhile, I Am From Reykjavik, by Manchester-based poet and performer Sonia Hughes, sees the artist build a series of small houses in public spaces starting with Parc La Fontaine. (Hughes brings the same piece to Luminato Festival Toronto from June 7-12.)

Perchance Theatre

Conception Harbour, N.L.

June 29 to August TBD

This professional outdoor classics company moved from one community to another last year and is now setting up its stage – think Shakespeare’s Globe meets a sailing ship – behind a convent in Conception Harbour, 45 minutes outside St John’s. High Steel – Mary Walsh, Ron Hynes and Rick Boland’s 1984 show about the Newfoundlanders who helped build the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center in New York – is back on the bill, while artistic director Danielle Irvine is helming a new A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Walsh’s CODCO co-star Andy Jones as Bottom. Top-shelf directors Richard Rose and Jillian Keiley also have shows in the season.

Rainbow Stage

Winnipeg

June through August

After 70 years of operation, Winnipeg’s summer musical theatre at the covered amphitheatre in Kildonan Park is premiering its first original musical. Set in Winnipeg, Ma-Buhay! (June 27 to July 14) – written by Joseph Sevillo with Joshua Caldo – takes place during a televised Filipino singing competition. Hometown hero Andrea Macasaet, who originated the role of Anne Boleyn in the Broadway production of Six: The Musical, returns to lead the cast of this pop musical, which also features Ma-Anne Dionisio, who famously played Kim in the original Canadian production of Miss Saigon.

Soulpepper

Toronto

June to August

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Torontonians can sample the tastes of the city without travelling to Louisiana by visiting Soulpepper this summer. First, a revival of director Weyni Mengesha’s award-winning production of A Streetcar Named Desire hits the boards from June 12 to July 7; Mac Fyfe and Amy Rutherford reprise the roles of Stanley and Blanche in Tennessee Williams’s classic for the first time since the pandemic squashed the production’s plans to tour. Then, as a chaser, The Big Easy: Music of New Orleans, a new concert created by Beau Dixon, runs from Aug. 1-11.