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Blyth Festival

Locally Grown Stories

Each year, the Blyth Festival showcases homegrown plays. But it’s more than just a theatre.

(pdf version of this article)

For over 30 years, the Blyth Festival has been entertaining audiences with “grassroots theatre for grassroots people.” It’s something that Artistic Director Eric Coates says no one else was doing in the 1970s.

Many of the plays since 1975 have been true stories based on local people. “Innocence Lost,” which was the story about Clinton native Steven Truscott and his battle with the law was recently part of the Blyth Festival line up. “Pearl Gidley,” which is the curious story about the former Blyth resident was part of the 2010 program. The Festival has had over 100 plays perform their world debut on the stage in Blyth.For those who don’t know what to expect when going to see a play at the Blyth Festival, Coates says they will see an authentic interpretation of rural Canadian life. “We don’t do plays about goofball cud-chewing farmers who are kind of dopey. The plays are about farmers and the complexity of their lives, the incredible risks they take as business people and the politics of small towns.”

Under the same roof in the Blyth Centre for the Arts, you’ll find the Blyth Festival Singers, Orchestra and the Art Gallery. The Blyth Art Gallery features many local artists and presents four professional showings each year. Coates hopes that in the off-season, production companies will utilize the building to host workshops for playwrights and other artists as a retreat or a “place to create.” He also wants to pay more homage to war veteran and hopes that each year there will be a new play honouring the armed forces which will play in Memorial Hall.

Coates says approximately 25,000 people come to Blyth each summer to watch a play at the Festival. “We have a theatre that seats almost half the population of the town, so on a good day when we have a matinee and evening show which both fill the theatre, then it’s almost equal to the population of the town,” states Coates. He also says there is a strong contingency of audience members who come from within 30 mile radius to watch a play. But there are also the more serious live theatre enthusiasts from Toronto who visit Blyth to watch some of the newest Canadian plays. Coates says visitors from as far away as Michigan and Buffalo will come to Blyth to see ground – breaking presentations.

The Blyth Festival has depended on the local economy for revenue long before shop local movements had even been contemplated. This is part of the reason why Coates is a strong believer in shopping locally, “I won’t leave town to buy something unless I have to.” He’s been with the Blyth Festival long enough to have seen the town of Blyth change drastically, “Watching these rural towns have to change their economy in the last 20 years, has been hard – It’s been very painful. I’m always very conscience about supporting local economies.” The Blyth Festival is located at 423 Queen Street in Blyth. Visit for upcoming events.

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