I’m thrilled that Northumberland Players has added my play to their upcoming season. Once Upon a Rocking Chair has been staged once before, having a successful run with StoneCircle Theatre in Pickering Village in 2008. Since then my writing has improved, my life experience has expanded so I am taking this opportunity to update the script, strengthen the play and present an updated, refreshed version of the story that goes deeper into the play’s themes. I’m excited to share this story and these characters with my community.
Produced by Matt Kowalyk
Directed by Jessica Outram
The De La Roche women have an annual summer Georgian Bay tradition. Three retired sisters and their three grown daughters spend a week at the cottage drinking wine, reminiscing, and making plans for the future. But this summer is different. Deep-rooted secrets are revealed as the annual festivities become ones that nobody will ever forget. It is a play about family, relationships, work, aging, life, and the validity of ‘happily-ever-after.’ A Northumberland premiere by a local playwright with a new, updated script.
May 26-June 11 2017 at The Firehall Theatre, Cobourg, Ontario.
Tickets are selling. Don’t miss out! Here are my top 10 reasons why you should click here and buy your tickets for “The Secret Garden” right now:
10. To experience truly gorgeous music. The lyrics and score are stunning. The vocalists and musicians are outstanding. If I’m regularly getting goosebumps up both arms in rehearsals, then I know that the music will melt you with its dynamic, red velvet texture.
9. To celebrate generous volunteers. Community theatre is as much about community as it is about theatre. It’s amazing how many volunteers stream in and out of rehearsal. For every person onstage it seems to take two people behind the scenes to bring a quality production to life. It’s inspiring to see people give so much of their time and talents.
8. To witness incredible talent. We are blessed in Northumberland to have a strong arts community. A big show like this one pulls in people from across the region who bring it all to the stage and leave it all on the stage. I’m in awe of the dedication, perseverance, and professionalism of my fellow cast members.
7. To become part of the story. If you saw “Les Miserables” last year at the Capitol Theatre you may know what I’m talking about. The storytelling was so engaging there were moments I stopped breathing as I sat in the audience. At the end of the show, I turned to my friends and said “people will be talking about this show for a long time.” It set a new bar for community theatre. “The Secret Garden” is brought to you by the same creative team as “Les Miserables”: Valerie Russell, Marie Anderson, and Alina Adjemian. It also features many of the outstanding actors from last year’s production.
6. To see springtime in winter. Get out of the house. Invite some friends. Have dinner at one of the many tasty restaurants in Port Hope. Resist Netflix and that cozy fire. Remember gardens and all the beauty and magic they offer. This show can do all that.
5. To be entertained. Watch this clip to see “what I mean…” Notice our joy. We want to share that with you.
4. To reflect on a powerful metaphor. Maybe my fellow poets, artists, and English teachers will join me in recognizing the power of metaphor. Metaphor makes my soul sing! The Secret Garden offers such a rich tapestry of lessons about love, loss, and living. Click here to read about what I’m learning from this story.
3. To connect with people. Theatre can do things television and wifi cannot. Theatre is about people. Living, breathing, right-there-in-front-of-you people! Theatre is transformative for those of us onstage and for the audience. Together we become theatre. Winter can be lonely. Go to the theatre. It’s always transformative for me in ways I couldn’t have predicted whether I’m onstage or in the audience. This is a show for all ages.
2. To support community. Supporting the arts in our communities is important. Community productions interest me far more than the big productions in the city. When I start to think about people in a place coming together, sharing their talents, and creating something to share with their neighbours, I get excited. This isn’t about a bottom line. This is about delighting you, our neighbour.
1. To receive the gift we have carefully prepared. A musical like this takes months of preparation. The cast and crew have dedicated their evenings and weekends to attend to every aspect of the show from designing costumes to lighting, from learning songs to accents, from building characters to building sets. We are all volunteers. We do this because we love the art of making theatre, but mostly we do this because we love to give to you. Over the years I’ve learned the people involved in community theatre feel really great when all the seats are filled by people enjoying the show.
See you there!
“The place was a wilderness of autumn gold and purple and violet blue and flaming scarlet on every side were sheaves of late lilies standing together–lilies which were white or white and ruby…Late roses climbed and hung and clustered and the sunshine deepening the hue of the yellowing trees made one feel that one stood in an empowered temple of gold.” The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett.
When I was I was sixteen I went to England for the first time, staying with different host families a few hours outside of London. I remember the gardens. Even a small yard was filled with rows of diverse colour, separated by narrow, meandering walking paths. It was such a contrast to the concrete and brick and asphalt dominating the front of the homes. I had never been in gardens that transported me beyond time and place before. The gardens offered magic and peace and escape–a refuge calming my fear of being away from home without my parents for the first time. This was when I learned that gardens were special.
As a child I loved the book “The Secret Garden” by Francis Hodgson Burnett. Mary Lennox is faced with big challenges: the death of her parents and everyone she knows and the move to a new country to live with an estranged, grieving uncle. The loss in her life is profound but through finding a secret garden, nurturing it to grow again, Mary gains a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging. As she tends to the garden, she becomes stronger and happier, healing herself and those around her.
Over the past few months, I’ve been rehearsing “The Secret Garden: The Musical” by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon with Northumberland Players. Coming back to this story I realize that although the story is about a child, the lessons about healing are most important for adults.
” “Perhaps it has been buried for ten years,” she said in an almost whisper. “Perhaps it is the key to the garden!” The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Norman and Simon have done an exquisite job of adapting this story for stage with a captivating score and multi-layered script. The music is stunning and complex. Listening to the Broadway soundtrack from beginning to end is a moving experience in itself, at times so powerful I want to weep. This is a musical that invites audiences to reflect on their lives, to face the ghosts of their pasts, and to do the work of healing. In many ways this is a musical for introverts.
This is not a musical with tap-dancing and kick-lines. It’s a love song, an extensive ballad about facing the storm, then finding life after loss. How can you heal when the love of your life has died? How can you have the strength to love your child when grief overcomes you? How can you support others who are gripped by despair?
After the death of her family, Mary goes to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven. The Craven family is overcome by grief for many years after Lily (Archie’s wife) died. Archibald, his brother, and his son, Colin, become like the wilted plants in a forgotten garden. They are desperate for healing but unable to do so alone.
Mary is brave and curious and independent. Her wild spirit leads her to meet Martha and Dickon and Ben. She listens to the robin. She opens the door to the unknown. She begins the work of restoring life to a neglected place. She teaches us about healing…
Healing is about being brave during the nightmares, listening to the whispers calling you to take action, taking a risk by stepping outside, giving yourself permission to feel the sun on your face, connecting with the people you meet, redefining a purpose for your life, focusing on something meaningful, giving to others what you most need for yourself, and honouring those you’ve lost by sharing your memories of them with others.
The garden is a powerful metaphor.
“Six months before Mistress Mary would not have seen the world was waking up, but now she missed nothing.” The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett.
In the spring of 2006, “The Secret Garden” was the last high school musical I directed. We used a student version with simpler music than the Broadway one, but the basic story was the same. I selected this play to delight the student audiences, for the simplicity of the story and its message. Ten years have passed and I am immersed in this story again. I missed so much. The story is just waking up for me now.
I bet Francis Hodgson Burnett knew we needed a child to teach adults about resiliency. Today resiliency has become a buzz word in education and parenting. We want to know how to help our children cope better with difficulty and bounce back from hurt. In a time when anxiety and depression seem to be on the rise, I wonder if we should look to the lessons of the garden.
“When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, with queer crabbed old gardeners and common little Yorkshire housemaids, with springtime and secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his ‘creatures,’ there was no room left for disagreeable thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made her yellow and tired.” The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett.
At work a student learning need often points to a teacher learning need. If our children need to be more resilient then we need to learn more about it. How do we cope with difficulty? If we are more resilient, then our children will be too.
To a child, ten years is a lifetime. To us it passes in a blink. Ten years ago I was thirty. The areas of my life that I have tended to have slowly grown and developed: my home, my job, my relationships with those closest to me, my creative projects, and my sense of inner peace and contentment. The areas of my life that I have neglected continue to be difficult, stagnant, and haunting. Some days when I’m afraid I feel the walls rising up, the large door moving into place, the key turning in the lock.
The Secret Garden gently invites me to visit the areas of my life that need nurturing. It reminds me that even in the most impossible examples of hurt that healing is possible, that it’s worthwhile to open the door, to slowly tend to the weeds and rot of disappointment and loss to make a space to plant some new seeds.
This is a musical for poets and thinkers and dreamers too. In the show, I am in the chorus. We are called “Dreamers.” I love this. We are spirits reflecting Mary’s fears and hopes. This show has a rich subtext inviting audiences to dig beneath the plot–but you will need to do some work.
A few years ago I saw this version of the musical staged at a theatre outside of Toronto. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about this story. I left the theatre feeling entertained by the staging and music, but I missed a great opportunity. I didn’t make connections. I didn’t listen to the whispers.
Being a cast member in this show has given me the space to think deeply about its themes. Maybe I wasn’t ready for these lessons before. Maybe I hoped that someone like Mary Lennox would literally pop into my life and show me the way, do all the hard work for me. Maybe I needed to become part of the story to truly understand: we all need healing.
Then I think about the things I’ve learned about community healing and peace building. The garden metaphor extends beyond my life to our lives–to how we can begin the work of healing from losses in our towns and countries and even the world. There are so many big scary things going on in the world right now that I feel I don’t have the capacity to face: terrorism, gun violence, water shortages, corruption, war, poverty. So when I hear of a world tragedy I grieve quietly for a couple days, then I put up the walls and the door and lock it all up–but other people are out there tending to this difficult stuff, working each day to do what they can…
We will always have pain and loss in our lives. We would be naive to think difficulty is for other people. I want to be more like Mary. I want to find the keys, open the doors, tend to the gardens of my life, my town, my world. If we listen to the whispers in the subtext of The Secret Garden we will hear the characters asking us to examine our lives and to look for where we can tend some earth, starting small with just a bit.
Children will certainly be entertained by the story and characters in The Secret Garden, but adults can be changed by it. So I invite you to join us next month as the doors open on this beautiful show at The Capitol Theatre in Port Hope. Allow yourself to think deeply. Ask the story to remind you of the truths you saw as a child. Listen closely to the whispers.
Mary Lennox offers just one story. Each character on the stage has a story too. And perhaps you will see yourself not in Mary Lennox, but in Archibald Craven or Lily or Colin or Dickon or Martha or the Dreamers.
Despite the heavy themes, The Secret Garden is an uplifting, hopeful, optimistic musical. It takes us to the saddest parts in our hearts but shows us a path back out into the light and into the world.
” “Now,” he said at the end of the story, “it need not be a secret anymore.”” The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett.
July 2015 marks my fifth summer of living in Cobourg and working in Colborne and Brighton. My city friends often ask about what life is like outside of the GTA. The landscape is different. The culture is different. The days unfold with a lot less noise and a lot more beauty. Life in the city has its benefits too–but living in a place where the natural world is so much a part of the human world grounds me in a way that the city can’t.
What Hooked Me
Years ago I had visited Spirit of the Hills as a guest to speak at a breakfast meeting. After the breakfast meeting a friend in the group asked if I’d like to go for lunch in Cobourg. Absolutely!
Sitting on the patio of the Oasis Restaurant on a perfect summer’s day I thought I could do this. I could live here. A few months later when I was thinking about applying for a new job, I applied in this region–and voila! Here I am!! Now I’ve bought a house and I feel like this is home–I will be here for a long time.
Things I love most about living in Northumberland
1. People know how to relax.
There is an easiness here. My first summer in Cobourg I walked down to the Harbour and Victoria Park Beach from the West Beach. After years of working so hard I was stunned to see so many people out for a walk, cycling along the lake, sitting on a bench with ice cream. Although it’s cliché–I literally felt like I had landed on another planet. Everyone was having fun, relaxing, enjoying the day and each other. No one was working! (I also realized in that moment how much I needed a break!)
From Port Hope to Brighton, there is a quiet easiness within the towns and within the people who live here. Drivers are respectful. Strangers are chatty. Beauty pops from the diverse landscape.
It’s a blessing to live in a place where the majority of the residents are retired–the 55+ crowd know important stuff about slowing down, appreciating each day, and taking time to drive out the pier and gaze at the lake.
Everyone I meet is a volunteer for something and the lists of volunteer work they do are astonishing! Volunteers make our communities kinder, more beautiful, and provide more opportunities for residents and travellers. From social justice organizations to dynamic arts groups to outdoors clubs, there is something for everyone. In our communities, most people contribute more than their taxes. Our communities are made up of generous, hardworking, heartfelt people who want street festivals and affordable housing and flourishing schools.
3. Sense of home. Peace.
Northumberland is not a sleeper community. People LIVE here. In fact, it hasn’t taken me long to make excuses to avoid the city. When I moved here I thought I would continue going into Toronto once a month to see friends, attend events. As the years have gone by the need to drive toward the city has slowly evaporated. Now I tend to get to the city once a season–and only in off-peak traffic!
It feels like home here. It has the peace of cottage country but with the convenience of a 20 minute drive to work and all amenities in town. Housing prices are better than the GTA so I was able to buy my dream house a few blocks from Lake Ontario.
We are proud of our communities. We feel a sense of connection because we are in this place. It’s important where we are from and how we came to be here, but it’s also important that we are all here. We are important because we exist here. My experience of Northumberland has been as a welcoming place.
4. Food is delicious!
The culture of food in Northumberland is the best surprise! Surrounded by farms we have access to outstanding local produce. Everything tastes better. The 100-mile diet is rich and glorious! (And oh the baking!!!!)
Restaurants and coffee shops have character. Independent eateries are more popular than the suburban chains. As a friend told me, “There isn’t a bad restaurant in Port Hope.” Port Hope certainly has a number of tasty places to go but I’ve enjoyed amazing meals throughout the whole region too!
5. “You can’t walk a block without bumping into an artist or creative person.”
From galleries to theatre to concerts, there is always somewhere to go or something to do. Creative people are everywhere. I can’t keep up with the arts events in Northumberland–in fact, I can’t even keep up with the arts in Cobourg! I’m an arts junkie and try to do something 3-4 times a month to support the local arts culture but I’m often faced with tough decisions as there are so many great options.
My Top Ten Favourite Things to Do in Cobourg/Port Hope
(in no particular order)
- MillStone Bakery in Cobourg. Amazing bread and baking. Try one of their ‘handwiches’ to go!
- Dreamers Cafe in Port Hope. Crazy Cookie–try one. Wowzer. (Also a lovely spot for lunch–or writing!)
- Cobourg Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. The most amazing honey and maple syrup you’ll ever try–among other delights.
- Capitol Theatre in Port Hope. Lots of great shows all year long.
- Avid Reader Bookstore in Cobourg. Friendly staff, good selection, a book lovers’ paradise!
- Corfu Grill in Cobourg–the food tastes just like it did when I visited Corfu.
- Cobourg Harbour and Victoria Beach. The opportunity to be on vacation any day or every day.
- Ten Thousand Villages in Cobourg. So many treasures.
- Victoria Hall, Cobourg–lots of great shows. Fascinating history. Stunning building.
- Burnham Family Market and Moore Orchards–love them both!!
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault.