15 years of putting the stories of the Ottawa Valley on stage
In December 2002 Stone Fence Theatre presented its first show: Ottawa Valley Christmas Past at the Wilno Tavern in Wilno, Ontario. One hundred people packed the small tavern for an afternoon of stories, song and comic monologue. The show was developed, written and hosted by Ish Theilheimer and directed by Barry Goldie. It included excerpts Joan Finnigan and Bernie Bedore and songs by several Ottawa Valley writers.
In March 2003, Stone Fence Theatre produced an original variety show called Valley Irish, in conjunction with Bonnechere Little Theatre of Eganville. The show was developed and hosted by Ish Theilheimer and directed by Barry Goldie. It featured excerpts from Joan Finnigan's "Songs from Both Sides of the River" and an original historical narrative "Hanora's Children" developed collaboratively. It was performed in three Renfrew County communities on one weekend. Despite blizzards every day it showed, "Valley Irish" played to capacity audiences everywhere.
In July and August, 2003, Stone Fence Theatre produced a four-week, eight-show run of an all-new supper theatre show entitled Up The Line! Valley Tales from the Summer Kitchen. This show, also developed and hosted by Theilheimer and directed by Goldie, contained script from several writers including Joan Finnigan, Bernie Bedore, and Barry Goldie as well as live story-telling. It was presented in the historic church hall at Our Lady of the Angels Parish on the historic Opeongo Road in Brudenell, Ontario in conjunction with the Parish auxiliary. Supper was prepared by the Parish which is famous for its annual church supper. The show was so well received that the entire run was sold out after two performances nearly 1,300 tickets sold, altogether, with much public clamour for tickets and more performances.
In 2004, its second year, Stone Fence Theatre produced three original new shows that focused on the cultural heritage and history of the Ottawa Valley. The season included eight touring performances in a variety of community halls, 20
summer performances in two venues and four fall performances. Productions in 2004 were:
1. Ottawa Valley Spring Breakup featuring ON THE AIR with Mac's Melodiers. The show was directed by Goldie and developed and hosted by Theilheimer with text and songs from a variety of sources. ON THE AIR with Mac's Melodiers is a one-act play written by Theilheimer with songs by the Ottawa Valley's most famous songwriter, Mac Beattie.
2. Reflections of a Century-The Musical, by Ish Theilheimer and Barry Goldie. This was a particularly ambitious work based on a 100-year compilation of news articles from the local newspaper, The Eganville Leader. The show played to standing ovations despite a rushed development and rehearsal schedule and a venue that created many problems for performance.
3. MORE Valley Tales from the Summer Kitchen. This variety show, developed by Theilheimer and directed by Goldie, included ON THE AIR with Mac's Melodiers one a prelude act made up of text and songs from various sources.
In addition, in summer 2004, Stone Fence launched an ambitious program intended to elevate the profile of the area's roots music for summer visitors. "Fiddlin' Around at Noon" was aStone Fence summer 2004 series of 30 lunch-hour concerts produced by Ish Theilheimer and upwards of 60 local musicians, dancers and story-tellers at five different tourist destinations: The Bonnechere Museum, The Wilno Station Inn, The Balmoral Hotel, The Golden Sands Resort and The Bonnechere Caves.
Throughout the fall of 2004 Stone Fence ran a series of theatre arts workshops for the public led by theatre professionals such as Bruce Laird, a professional playwright, composer, director and musical director with a 50-year record of achievement.
2005. The company began 2005 with a 10-show, four-community winter tour of Renfrew County with a newly developed, full-length show called Looking Back at Mac, by Ish Theilheimer. This show essentially adds a first act to ON THE AIR with Mac's Melodiers and is more biographical as a result. The tour was sponsored by Renfrew County Community Futures Development Corporation and had a specific focus on youth, with five youth in the cast and one backstage. All performances took place in high school auditoriums and feature cameo performances by local students and teachers. In three of the schools, students did dramatic productions specially for the tour and, in one case, wrote an original script.
Stone Fence's summer and fall schedule included 34 performances of two shows: Al Capone's Hideout, a locally-written musical comedy about when gangster Al Capone hid out near the Ottawa Valley town of Quadeville in the 1940s, and eight performances in August of Looking Back at Mac. Director Barry Goldie was a co-author of Al Capone's Hideout and led its development process in 1992 with Stone Fence's predecessor company, Upper Madawaska Theatre.
In 2006 the company staged three original productions, all based on collaborative research and development with the local community:
1. "Barn Dance!" was an all-star musical tribute to the stars of old-time Canadian country music assembled by Ish Theilheimer, featuring Brian Hebert, Carol Kennedy, "Reverend Ken" Ramsden, Lynn Davis, Ish Theilheimer, Robin Pinkerton and the dancing of Jenna and Marissa Henry. The program featured the music of Don Messer, Hank Snow, Lucille Star, Ned Landry, Mac Beattie, Reg Hill and other favourites for the '30s through the '60s.
2. "Here To Stay!" by Ish Theilheimer, was a sequel, of sorts, to Reflections of a Century, The Musical, but also an inspiring, feel-good musical about the fight for rural survival. It followed the big events and underlying themes occurring in the Valley and in all of rural Canada through the last 50 years of the 20th Century.
3. "Upstream To Basin Depot," a new show by Barry Goldie and Lee LaFont was developed in conjunction with CHCR Community Radio and the Killaloe Friendship Club as part of an ongoing collaborative process. It is based on the rich lore of stories associated with the Bonnechere River. The story is set in the lumber camps, stopping places, and supply farms near Basin Depot. We meet historical and fictional characters that tell a tale about the lumber industry on the Bonnechere in the early years of the 20th century. History, romance, adventure, evil deeds, brave heros, lots of original music and fun will be found "Upstream."
2007. The company was forced to dramatically downsize in 2007. Attendance in 2006 was fair, but hoped-for public funding did not materialize. There's a lot of competition for the few programs available for small theatres! Since then, the company has been run by a core of professionals working part-time, with a greater number of volunteers, with a focus only on revenue it can earn from customers, supporters and local businesses.
In 2007, Stone Fence produced a new musical review called "The Train She Blew From Killaloe," a title emanating from a poem by lumber camp supplier and part-time poet Martin Garvey, "the Bard of the Bonnechere." The show featured historical narratives including the Battle of Brudenell, based on the work of Shirley Mask Connolly, the saga of Laird Archibald MacNab, with vignettes by Joan Finnigan, and Big Joe Mufferaw (Joseph Montferrand), with vignettes by Bernie Bedore. It featured a cast and crew of 18 including 10 youth.
This show appeared in rotation with variety of musical performances, including a new version of "On the Air with Mac's Melodiers, the company's classic recreation of the old Mac Beattie radio show. The 2007 version featured new songs and personnel.
Also in 2007 Stone Fence Theatre launched an Ottawa Valley Concert Series, with successful concerts by top Canadian performers Gail Gavan, April Verch and Searson, among others.
In 2008 Stone Fence Theatre presented a special new variety show that featured hilarious stories and songs as told by one of Killaloe's most beloved residents. An Ottawa Valley Kitchen Party, featuring Tales of Benny Afelskie brought to the stage some very funny people, led by Stone Fence favourites John Haslam, Ambrose Mullin and Ken Ramsden telling stories that Bennie Afelskie has told us. Helping them tell the stories are four members of one of the Valley's leading musical families, the Helfertys of Douglas. Stephen plays guitar, acts and sings. Catherine, Christine and Rachel sing, step-dance and act. And backing them all up are some of the Valley's favourite musicians. Carol Kennedy plays keyboard and fiddle and acts. Ish Theilheimer - who created the show - sings, acts and plays fiddle and other stringed instruments. Ken Ramsden acts, sings and plays guitar and fiddle and a bit of everything.
Also that year, Stone Fence Theatre launched The Ottawa Valley Pageant, performed outdoors on Saturday afternoons, July 5 - August 16 at 1:30 p.m., right after the Farmer's Market at Hoch Farm Park in Killaloe. This one-hour show will be a real family affair, ideal and priced right ($8 for adults, $2 for kids) for the whole family. The musical and dramatic show, directed and created by Barry Goldie, will take the audience on a guided musical and historical tour of the Killaloe area. The audience will be led around the historic farm by none other than J.R. Booth, the lumber baron who built the railway that put Killaloe on the map.This trip back in time focused on Centennial year celebrations in charming Killaloe.
In 2009, the company moved to the Eagle's Nest at the Eganville Community Centre for its greater size, convenience, accessibility and central location. We produced a review based on the history of dance halls in the Ottawa Valley called Country Sparking at Sunnydale Acres, written by Ish Theilheimer, who also starred in the show, along with Diana Walker and Ken Ramsden. Also in the band that year were Stephen Helferty and, for the first time, keyboard standout Peter Brown.
In 2010, the company lost an important team member, business manager Joe Murray and we had other health problems to contend with, so we offered a new version of On the Air with Mac's Melodiers, featuring Ambrose Mullin, John Haslam, Ken Ramsden and Stephen Helferty. This show, in one form or another, was ultimately performed more than 70 times.
In 2011, the company, still in recovery mode, put on a review of traditional, favourite and original musical numbers with comic vignettes called The Opeongo Opera, by Ish Theilheimer. It featured Terry McLeish, Fran Hobbs, Maureen McCoy, John Haslam, the Helferty Sisters, Stephen Helferty, Ken Ramsden and "Minny Others."
2012 marked a departure for the company, its first non-musical play, and its first script by a non-company member, Schoolhouse, by Leanna Brodie. It starred Christine Helferty and Josh McCoy and was directed by Chantal Elie-Sernoskie, who made her Stone Fence debut in 2011. The show included original background music by Peter Brown intermission entertainment by Emma and Will March, and dinner music by Peter Brown and Ish Theilheimer.
The company also produced a French-Canadian traditional music party called "In a Little Shack Up the Pontiac," which introduced button accordion master Gaston Nolet, along with Jake Charron, Francios Dumond, Serge Martin and Marie Claude Breault, along with featured singer Debbie Beauchamps.
In 2013, the company held its first-ever reading of scripts submitted through its Ottawa Valley Script Development project. More than 70 people attended the February event at The Sands on Golden Lake.
The company developed two new scripts and productions in 2013:
- Bonnechere River - The Future Tense, by Ish Theilheimer and Johanna Zomers, with music by Terry McLeish, developed for the Bonnechere River Watershed Project, and
- There's Hippies Up the Line, a musical by Ish Theilheimer and Johanna Zomers, including music by Peter Brown and Carol Kennedy. This became one of the company's signature shows, a musical with a large cast that featured Fran Pinkerton, Ambrose Mullin, Amber Dagenais, Maureen McCoy, Ken Ramsden, Colin Wylie, and Phil Hoffman. Chantal Elie-Sernoskie directed both productions
The company also produced a bluegrass concert in Eganville with The Foggy Hogtown Boys.
In 2014, the company's mainstage production was G'day, We're from the Valley, EH!, a collectively-developed comic review about contemporary Ottawa Valley life, starring John Haslam, Peter Brown, Chantal Elie-Sernoskie, Phil Hoffman, Maureen McCoy, Camille McLean, Ambrose Mullin, Fran Pinkerton, Robin Pinkerton and Ish Theilheimer. Chantal Elie-Sernoskie directed the show and Ish Theilheimer was musical director and main writer. Terry Mask joinied the crew that year as Techical Director. The crew made a music video based on the show's rap number Don't Get My Valley Up!
In March, 2014, the company held a reading of original one-act play scripts by Chris Hinsperger, Shannon Keller, Tim Stubinski.
In 2015, the company produced two original musicals by Ish Theilheimer: Here Comes the Train! The Ottawa Valley Railway Story, starring Peter Brown, Lesley Sneddon, Chantal Elie-Sernoskie, Phil Hoffman, Ambrose Mullin, Fran Pinkerton, Colin Wylie, Peter Frolander, and Ish Theilheimer, with Stephanie Pinkerton standing in for Chantal in Fall, and Valley Vic and The Christmas Temptations, starring Ambrose Mullin, Fran Pinkerton, Lawrie Barton, Rita Tolhurst, and Kaylee Garcia, with band members Bryan Walsh, Schroeder Nordholt, Robin Pinkerton and Derek Tolhurst and chorus members Bailee Dombroskie, Jenna Schisson, Jude Pinkerton, and Luna and Solana Nordholt. Chantal Elie-Sernoskie directed both shows.
In 2016, it staged the comedy Stag and Doe, by Mark Crawford, directed by Chantal Elie-Sernoskie. This play, which opened at the Blyth Festival in 2014, featured, in its Stone Fence Theatre production, Danielle Bissonnette, Melissa Lindsay, and Kelley Oliver, as well as returning veterans Joshua McCoy and Stephanie Pinkerton, Chris Hoffman, Phil Hoffman and Camille McLean, with MC Valley Vic, and pre-show music (traditional, Irish and Celtic) by Ish Theilheimer and Jim Beattie.
In fall and winter, it produced a fund-raising tour with a new musical comedy, High Times at the Heart Institute, by Ish Theilheimer. The show was inspired by the playwright's own experience as a heart patient and the new appreciation he gained for Canada's health system as a result. The tour raised more the $21,000 for health care in the Ottawa Valley. The show was directed by Chantal Elie-Sernoskie and featured John Haslam, Fran Pinkerton, Peter Brown, Lesley Sneddon and Shirley Hill, with Cathy Lyons, Conrad Boyce and Nigel Epps and musicians Derek Tollhurst and Evan Burgess.
It also staged an evening of French-Canadian tradition music called Kitchen Party! / Party de cuisine! It featured button accordion virtuoso Gaston Nolet along with Monique Jutras, who sings, plays guitar, and does amazing things with the dancing "bonhomme" ; frequent Pembroke fiddle contest finalist Yvon Cuilleriere and keyboard and fiddle trickster and wizard Germain Leduc. The evening was hosted by Ish Theilheimer and by Chantal Elie-Sernoskie, a franco-Ontarian with strong musical roots in her community.
The company also produced a studio-recorded CD called Songs from Here Comes the Train, recorded by Colin Wylie at School House Recordings in Douglas, Ontario.
In 2017, the company had a successful six-town, 14-show run of Stick Out Your Tongue and Say MOO, a romantic musical comdey by Ish Theiheimer featuring Evan Burgess, Danielle Bissonnette, Shirley Hill, Derek Tolhurst, Cathy Lyons and Chantal Elie-Sernoskie, who also directed the play and had her fourth baby in September, partially through the run.
It also staged a sold-out evening of Cape Breton music led by fiddler Andrea Beaton and supported by an all-star cast of East Coast musicians: Troy MacGillivray (fiddle/piano), Matt MacIsaac (pipes/whistles) and Nathan Bishop (vocals/guitar). Each is an outstanding talents in his own right.