Long-time Stratford Festival enthusiast and theatre lover Lisa Dent-Couturier shares her experiences of bringing her family to the theatre and of being the “stage mom” of one of our young Tommys – Arden Couturier! Enjoy Lisa’s guest blog.
by Lisa Dent-Couturier
‘Peter Pan is a part of everyone’s imaginative landscape.’ These words from Tim Carroll’s director’s notes have taken on a special meaning for our family since that blustery spring day in 2010 when we took our children, Claire, age nine, and Arden, age four, to experience Peter Pan, their first production at the Stratford Festival.
If I close my eyes I can still picture the looks of complete wonder and joy on their faces as they became a part of the magical story unfolding on stage that day. Their world has since been inspired and shaped by their experiences at the Festival, continuing with Camelot, The Grapes of Wrath, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline, 42nd Street, Wanderlust, The Matchmaker, The Pirates of Penzance and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Our connection to Stratford extends beyond the Festival to deep family roots. My dad and his family are from Stratford and his grandfather played cricket on the Festival lawns in the 1930s. My own childhood was filled with family visits to Stratford that included walking along the Avon River, feeding the swans, taking family photos on the island, paddle boating, shopping for vintage items at the Green Room, enjoying Rheo Thompson’s chocolates and, of course, attending unforgettable productions at the Festival. These visits continued into my adulthood and have inspired years of reminiscing. Everyone who knows me has had to endure endless gushing about Cyrano de Bergerac, Amadeus, Peter Pan, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, As You Like It and Wanderlust, to name just a few!
Theatre was a big part of my childhood and it has also become a big part of our children’s lives. My parents both studied drama and have always been avid play-goers. I grew up tagging along with my dad to rehearsals and shows from the time I was a pre-schooler. The first musical I saw when I was a young child was Charlie Brown, so I was thrilled to share the Festival’s marvellous production with Claire and Arden.
I have loved exploring Stratford with our children. We have gone far beyond the stage to experience everything that the Festival and the city have to offer families, including self-guided tours of historic homes; acting, directing and teacher workshops; late-night cabarets; conversations with company members; Exhibition displays and many special events.
Perhaps our favourite Festival experiences beyond the stage have been our visits to the Costume Warehouse. Our visits are always punctuated with screeches of delight as we discover and re-discover the creations of the many inspiring artisans who work at the Festival. Imagine us as we’ve encountered a dinosaur, tried on Captain Hook’s big red coat, discovered a treasure chest of pirate booty, and climbed King Arthur’s tree and sat on his throne!
We all have our collection of inspiring Festival experiences. Arden’s happened after seeing a performance of Much Ado About Nothing in 2012. He had watched the fantastic animated promotional video for Henry V over & over again, and he was disappointed that he couldn’t see the play.
An understanding Festival employee invited him to watch the set changeover. As he sat there completely in awe of the scene unfolding in front of him, he said, ‘Mom, this is a dream come true!’
The experiences that we’ve had in Stratford have stayed with us long after we’ve returned home, inspiring hours and hours of reading, imaginative play, art and design, dress-up, writing and video- and music-making as we all search out ways to relive and re-connect with those magical moments on stage.
It’s hard to believe how much has changed since that first 2010 season. This year, on another blustery day, Arden, now seven, was entering the Avon Theatre once again – but not through the main doors, and not as an audience member. Instead, he entered through the stage door as a company member for his first rehearsal of Pete Townsend and Des McAnuff’s Tommy! It has been an incredible experience for my young music and theatre lover to be part of this amazing team of artists.
As I sat in the audience for the invited dress, in a very similar spot to where we sat for Peter Pan, I was struck by the fact that once again our ‘imaginative landscapes’ will be forever changed, in ways we can only begin to imagine…
Lisa Dent-Couturier is the General Director of Compass Theatre Productions and the producer of Richard Sheridan Willis. Strolling Player, coming to the Toronto Fringe Festival and Factory 163 this summer. She is also producing Compass Theatre’s The Little Prince, set to tour in the fall of 2013. Discover her company at www.compasstheatreproductions.org and follow her theatre adventures on Twitter @THEATREtc.