Tickets are selling fast for Stone Fence Theatre’s newest musical Here Comes the Train! The Ottawa Valley Railway Story, by Ish Theilheimer. Advance sales are up over 30 percent from previous years – even better than There’s Hippies Up the Line! which sold out nearly every performance in 2013.
“We knew this subject would be popular with both local residents and visitors, but we’ve been overwhelmed with the response so far,” says Box Office and Business Manager Amy Rouillard. “Train aficionados are a passionate group, eager to travel to see what they love – not to mention that we’ve got plenty of them right here in the Valley! But really, who doesn’t love trains? Even young children, who’ve probably never seen a real train, are fascinated.”
Stone Fence Theatre is the Ottawa Valley's only regional professional theatre producing original shows. In this one, it goes behind the scenes in the golden age of railways in the Ottawa Valley to look at the lives of the people who worked on the trains and the impact railways had on their communities, first establishing them and later after the lines were abandoned. The show is based on the first-hand experiences of some of the last of the Ottawa Valley railway workers from that era.
"There are very few people left who worked on and around local railways in the Steam Era,"says company producer and playwright Ish Theilheimer. "With the decline they saw coming and the end of steam, the railways stopped hiring, for the most part, in the early 1950s, so there aren't many folks around to talk with."
Over the last two years, however, he did make contact with former railroaders throughout the Valley, from Madawaska to Ottawa, and their reminiscences form the backbone, and heart, of the musical. Some of these railroaders include Micky Chatsick, when he lived at home in Killaloe; Gwen & Mark Woermke, Bob Corrigan, and Greg and Roseann Hart of Barry’s Bay; John Deshanes of Renfrew, Tom Gallagher of Eganville, and Don Recoskie of Wilno. Graeme Roy, of Prescott, who grew up in the train station in which his father was Station Agent, contributed both stories and photos and videos from his immense collection, which will be projected throughout the show on an eight-foot-high screen.
"The images in the slide show are powerful," says Theilheimer. "People will be moved."
Theilheimer met Roy, and several others, at the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in Smith Falls. The Museum has been an important partner in this show, helping not only with research, but loaning Stone Fence Theatre props and costumes to ensure an authentic experience.
Here Comes the Train! includes 15 new songs, many in bluegrass style. "It just seemed to fit the subject, the rhythm of the rails," says Theilheimer.
The 10-person cast includes four veteran musicians with the company - Peter Brown on keys, Colin Wylie on guitar, Peter Frolander on string bass, Ish Theilheimer on mandolin and fiddle - and introduces Tim Faught of Killaloe on five-string banjo.
On stage, the show features director Chantal Elie-Sernoskie, Fran Pinkerton, Ambrose Mullin, Lesley Sneddon and Phil Hoffman. Cast members live in far-flung parts of the Valley, from Barry’s Bay to Pembroke to Lanark and have been getting together for rehearsals since February.
Stone Fence Theatre is famous for its“Supper Theatre” featuring delicious, down-home style roast beef (with vegetarian and gluten-free options), complete with home baking and fresh made pies., all prepared by the area's most popular chef, Andrea Budarick of Palmer Rapids.
While folks enjoy their supper they are treated to pre-show entertainment by a range of the Valley's best musicians. This year's lineup of entertainers includes some up and comers as well as names folk music fans know well, including singer/actor Sneezy Waters, legendary fiddler Peter Dawson, and popular singer-songwriters Pat Moore and Terry McLeish.
To get a glimpse of what you can expect at this show, check out the promotional music video for "Got That Train on my Brain," It was shot, in old-time movie style, at the old railway station in Barry’s Bay. It can be viewed online at
Performances begin with an Early Bird show, Monday, July 13 in Eganville, at which all youth are free and the cost is just $22 (plus tax) because there is no meal served. This is followed by supper shows in Eganville on Wednesdays: July 15, July 22, July 29, and Aug 12. There will be one supper show in Barry’s Bay, Wednesday, August 5.
In fall, there will be two supper shows in Eganville on Saturdays: September 26, and Oct. 3. The troupe then goes to Killaloe for a supper show and matinee, October 16 and 17. Next stop is Renfrew for a Saturday supper show and Sunday dinner matinee, October 24 and Nov. 1, followed by a matinee and evening show in Smiths Falls November 7.
Tickets for youth 18 and under are free for the Early Bird and Matinee performances. Discounts are also available for anyone who wants to come to a supper show, but wants the “No Meal Deal”, which still includes dessert at intermission.
More information, full schedule and ticket purchases are all available at: www.stonefence.ca, 613-628-6600 or toll-free 1-866-310-1004.