Theatre in the Rough ©2006

(Published in The Country Connections Magazine, No. 52, Summer 2006)

Shortly after I moved to the Peterborough area, I was asked if I’d like to attend a play at the 4th Line Theatre. Being a fan of local theatre, I accepted, and I was delightfully surprised at what I experienced.

After a short drive up the highway towards Millbrook and along some twisting county roads, we turned onto a gravel road. Other than a small sign posted at the corner, there was no indication of anything but fenced fields and cattle grazing until we reached a lane that bore a large board announcing the presence of the theatre. We journeyed up the winding driveway, past the brick farmhouse, and were directed to park the car in the adjacent field. There were several other theatre buffs already there. We were led through a gate and around the end of a barn to where a row of bleachers had been set up. These were to be our seats.

It wasn’t long before the bleachers were filled and the play began with a brief introduction by a narrator. We were sitting on one side of a barnyard that consisted of three weather-blackened buildings forming a u-shape.  Directly across from us, in front of one of the buildings, a small wooden stage was set with a table, two chairs and a sideboard to depict a country kitchen. To our right we soon heard voices approaching, and then two men came into view. One was dressed in overalls and a straw hat; the other wore a brown suit, white shirt and a tie.  They were discussing the new telephone lines that were being strung.

The play that we went to see is called Crow Hill: The Telephone Play. It’s the story of how the local telephone company was started nearly a century ago by a young country doctor as a means for his patients to contact him in an emergency. In the play it is a fictional Dr. Logie who is responsible. The performance carried us through many years of changes as it examined the impact of this new technology on the rural community.

The aging transformation of the characters, especially Dr. Logie, was extremely well done. Ona Gardiner, whose life inspired the story, graced us with a cameo appearance at the end of the presentation. Ona spent nearly 30 years answering calls from patients at a switchboard in the nearby Garden Hill home of Dr. Alexander Beatty in the early to mid 1900s.

The barnyard is not the only production venue on the farm. The following summer we enjoyed seeing Last Summer, a reminiscence of romance and young love discovered during a summer vacation at an area cottage, a romance that was interrupted when war broke out and lives were changed forever.

Getting to the stage area this time meant that we had to take a leisurely stroll through the woods to a small apple orchard. The bleachers were set up close to the stage and off to the left a three-piece band was assembled in a little pavilion, providing pre-performance entertainment. We later discovered that it was also a part of the story. The action took place very close to the audience, sometimes just an arms length away, and gave us a sense of being part of it.

Because we were accompanied by an elderly lady who was unable to make the walk to the orchard or climb up onto the bleachers, we were pleased that a minivan was provided to take her most of the way. We were given lawn chairs to sit on, placed under an apple tree, just steps from the stage. We had an excellent view; however, a couple of times, we had to duck to avoid falling apples, which caused a bit of a chuckle around us.

The charm of this unique theatre is not only the fact that all performances take place outdoors, but also the fact that, although there is only one built set for each play, the action for each scene often begins and/or ends away from that spot, perhaps in the adjacent field, or through the open doors of the barn, from where Dr. Logie burst forth in his Model “T” to begin one scene in Crow Hill.

As a newcomer to the area, I also enjoy learning some of its history through the plays, as most of them are locally written and based on local historical events. Most of the cast members are either professional actors, or aspiring drama students, many of whom are from the community. It’s obvious that they devote themselves to learning their lines and becoming their characters. Both of the performances that we saw left me feeling that I’d been invited into these lives. I felt the joy; I felt the pain.


The Cast

Now that I’m familiar with this wonderful theatre it’s become an important part of my summer “must do” list. This year we’re looking forward to seeing Dr. Bernardo’s Children, but we’ll have to get our tickets early.  Last year it was a sold out show every night, and we sadly discovered that we couldn’t pull our usual stunt of deciding at the last minute that we wanted to attend!


Things Aren’t Always What They Seem, A Niagara Get-a-Way

We drove for three hours to Niagara-on-the-Lake to see Alice in Wonderland at the Shaw Festival. We’d never been there before and Alice looked like a fun production. We almost didn’t go because we’re saving our money for our next big adventure – a tour to China – but we got in on a seat sale and off we went.

For some reason our GPS needs to be always plugged in and the connection has a problem so it kept shutting off and reloading.  Finally I found Google Maps on my new Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime and was pleased at how easy it was to follow. We arrived at the theatre, found a parking spot on the street only a short distance from the door, and still had time to purchase a large chicken Caesar salad at the food bar to share before curtain time.

The theatre is well laid out, meaning there were no bad seats in the house. The production was as colourful as expected, including gorgeous costumes, and brilliant special effects.


At intermission we enjoyed a cold drink on the patio and toured the gardens. It was worth the trip, to that point.



Some children wore funny hats

By the time it was over, two and a half hours later, the shared salad had left me yearning for something more. We drove down the main street and again were fortunate to find a perfect parking place. We wandered the street, taking pictures of the lovely old restored buildings, poking our heads into some of the unique shops and checking out menus at the many restaurants.

The prices seemed high, even for a tourist town, starting at about $25.00 a plate. We decided that we’d drive to our inexpensive hotel in Niagara Falls and find a restaurant there.

When we checked into the hotel, we were told that the $48 room didn’t include the $12.00 parking fee or the $3.99 tourist fee, but we had read about that on the website. We were impressed with this Super 8 hotel, which seemed to have recently been updated. Everything was clean and fresh. The room was large.

We were given coupons for a couple of attractions, and $15.00 off a meal at the iHop, just a few blocks down the street. Off we trotted, only to find that that particular iHop isn’t open for dinner during the week. We saw another one in the distance and started walking again. By this time I was feeling a little weak from hunger. When we opened the menu we discovered that the prices at this chain restaurant were only a couple of dollars less than what we would have paid for an exclusive fresh-made meal in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake. None of the choices were very appealing. Jim chose the chicken fried steak dinner; I settled for a chicken and cheese quesadilla. The shell was a little too crispy, but the chicken was tender and flavourful. Jim had an iced tea; I had water. Total cost including tip, and minus the discount, $45.00!

In the morning we snared another discount coupon and headed back to the closer iHop for breakfast. Along the way we noticed a sign advertising a Breakfast Buffet for just $6.99, but we’d forgotten about the breakfast prices at iHop, and we had the discount coupon, so we carried on. It was 9:00 a.m. and there were very few people in the restaurant. That should have told us something.  We ordered coffee while we looked over the menu. Neither of us wanted pancakes or waffles, iHop specialties it seems.  We asked about just getting bacon and eggs and were told that they could do some substitutions. On one special menu a variety of fruit covered waffles were shown. Below them was a list that read, “Build your Own.” It looked like maybe these simple entrees of bacon/ham, eggs, hash browns and toast might come with the waffles, but our inquiry confirmed that they did not. The price for the bacon and egg plate, without the waffles was $18.99!  We decided to leave. We’d already poured our coffee, and added three milk to the very black liquid. Just a few sips were all our taste buds could handle, but we knew we were obligated to pay for it. When the waitress brought the bill, Jim’s jaw dropped –$9.28!

As we exited, Jim offered our coupon to one of the few other groups of people seated. They exclaimed, “Now we’ve got two!” I didn’t even hear a thank you.

We walked back to the $6.99 Breakfast Buffet at the AlMacs. The place was buzzing. We were shown to a booth not far from the buffet and there we found more variety than the iHop menu provided. We should have gone there to start, and we could have also enjoyed the dinner buffet the night before for only $12.99.

Back at our hotel we packed up to leave. When Jim went to the desk to settle the bill again his jaw dropped. The $48 had become $86 by the time all the little extra charges were added on.

So it turned out that what was expected to be a reasonably priced one-night get away was just a tad more than we’d budgeted for.