By Aaron Kropf

Family. One simple word that means so much. A word that stirs up emotion. An idea that brings up a different set of emotions for each of us. Not only does the word family evoke thoughts of our own families and what it each member means to you but it brings to the forefront of our minds families that we have seen on stage and screen. This season alone we have seen several different families.  On the Festival stage we have a few different family dynamics going on in Camelot. Twelfth Night presents the uniting of twins. Over at the Studio Theatre we saw the struggles of one woman in a close knit family in The Little Years. In The Grapes of Wrath the Joad family shows us what is means to stick together as a family in difficult times. Then we saw different families in Richard III and Titus Andronicus that brought a whole new meaning of family conflicts.

Then along came The Homecoming. This all male family might make us shine a whole new light on our own family. We consider our family because these men really teach us what it means to be dysfunctional.

This is really a family we would like to avoid, and The Homecoming presents a family that is different than many that we see on stage or screen.  The dynamic seems a little strange but when we look at each relation I’m sure it’s something we can all connect to.  What makes watching the action on the stage so uncomfortable is that we are so present.  It’s voyeurism to the extreme because it feels as though we are sitting in the room with everyone because of the incredible set design.

As it is with the word “Family” different reactions and thoughts come out of viewing The Homecoming. It’s interesting to hear from each of you what you were thinking when watching. Cara Ricketts talks about her views on the show in this video created earlier in the year. Her perspective in so unique because she is the only woman in the show, which makes this so interesting:

What’s your take on this unique show?


Give thanks for Grapes

By: Christi Rutledge

Since Canadian Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I thought there would be no better time to talk about the power of the family. As we prepare to snuggle down this long weekend, let’s take a quick look at a production this season that makes me feel especially thankful: The Grapes of Wrath (it inspires gratitude in a very different way from The Homecoming – but that’s a whole other story and a whole other blog ). More powerful than the poverty, addictions, violence or tragedy is the force of family in this production. Frank Galati’s adaptation focuses on the heart of an incredible family as it brings Steinbeck’s story of the Joads to life on stage.

As the Joad family is tested and their material goods are taken away, what remains strong is the desire and the need for support from one another. The family is resilient throughout the production; in my opinion, this is largely thanks to the strong role that the women play in keeping the family together. Ma Joad, played by Janet Wright, harnesses the family and gives them direction, purpose and advice when the going gets tough — and it gets pretty tough. When Rose of Sharon (played by Chilina Kennedy) loses her baby and it seems that the family has nothing for which to be grateful, Ma once again pulls the family together. If you have read the book, then you already know about Rose of Sharon’s final act of benevolence. If you haven’t, I won’t spoil the end for you.

While some people might feel inclined to be upset by all of the loss, I think that there is a bigger picture to this play. This is a piece of theatre that reinforces the importance of families sticking together, placing one another before oneself and, most of all, being thankful for what you have. I’ve seen this show a couple times now and still leave the theatre feeling hopeful – and, more importantly, incredibly thankful.

Check out this great clip from The Grapes of Wrath as the family gives thanks at the dinner table:

I am in love with this production of The Grapes of Wrath and I want to make sure that you see it this season – so I’m sharing a special ticket deal with you and your families. Until the end of the season, enjoy $29 tickets to any production of The Grapes of Wrath. To redeem this great offer, go to and log in with promotion code 40963.

Press Release: Festival mourns the loss of actor Wayne Robson

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is deeply saddened to announce that company member Wayne Robson has passed away peacefully at his home.
After a long and varied career, Mr. Robson was to make his Stratford debut this season as Grampa inThe Grapes of Wrath.
“In the brief period since Wayne joined the Festival company, he very quickly became close to us all with his enthusiasm, good humour and enormous talent,” said General Director Antoni Cimolino. “He was generous in sharing stories from his past and from his vast experience in theatre across many countries dating back to the 1960s. He was immensely practical and yet a true imaginative child of the stage light.
“His work as Grampa had us both in stitches and in tears. Within The Grapes of Wrath, Grampa dies suddenly and his loss forever leaves a mark on the Joad family. So too does Wayne’s parting leave a gap in our Festival family.”
“I first met Wayne Robson more than 30 years ago,” said Artistic Director Des McAnuff, “when I offered him a part in A Mad World, My Masters at the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto – which he had to turn down in order to accept a role in Robert Altman’s movie Popeye. I’d been looking for another opportunity to work with him ever since, so I was naturally delighted when he agreed to join our 2011 company.
“Now I am utterly heartbroken that he has been taken from us so prematurely, with such an important contribution still to make. Wayne was an outstanding artist who had a diverse and accomplished career on stage, in film and on television, and his loss will be heavily felt not only here in Stratford but across our country.”
The Festival will dedicate this season’s production of The Grapes of Wrath to the memory of Mr. Robson.
Mr. Robson appeared in over 100 theatre productions in Canada, 30 feature films and 120 television productions, including 12 seasons as Mike Hamar on The Red Green Show. Last November he played Morrie in Tuesdays with Morrie at the Sudbury Theatre Centre. He won Gemini Awards for his roles as Wally in And Then You Die and Christie Logan in The Diviners, a Dora Award for his portrayal of Stan in Walking the Tightrope at Theatre Direct and a Blizzard Award in Manitoba for his work in The Diviners. He also received Genie nominations for his roles as Shorty in The Grey Foxand Hank in Bye Bye Blues, and was named Actor of the Year by the Vancouver Sun.
In his 65th year, Mr. Robson leaves behind his children Ivy and Louis; their mother Lynn; and many, many friends and colleagues in theatre, film and television.
Funeral details will be announced at a later date.

Book Club: The Grapes of Wrath – Moving

Below I’ve put together a few thoughts I’ve had on John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. Focusing on the first half of the book, I couldn’t help noticing how many movements and transitions take place, involving characters ranging from Tom Joad to Casy to Muley – and even a turtle.

The novel starts out with a description of the conditions of the time, so graphic you can almost feel the dirt infiltrating your nostrils. Then we meet Tom Joad on his way home. He’s wearing new clothing and looking for a ride, and we soon find out that he’s been in prison. He’s experiencing a major transition: from prison life to life back in the outside world, back to home, family and work.

Like the rest of his family later in the novel, he’s on the go for two reasons:

1)      He’s looking to put the past behind him. He did his time and got out early for good behaviour.

2)      He’s looking toward the future. He has come to terms with what he did and is ready to focus on what needs to be done now to build a successful future.

Later, we see the whole Joad family picking up their home, where each generation has contributed to the family’s survival on the same plot of land, and heading for the Southwest. The Joads have heard that things are better in California – and after all they’ve been through, what do they have to lose by making this long journey? Isn’t it a decision any of us would make if we were in the same situation?

I’ve gone out on my own a few times, for various reasons, to places where I knew nobody, or next to nobody. My first move was for education: to western Canada and specifically Winnipeg. This is usually why people move on their own for the first time; not many of us stay home to further our educations. I went in hopes of a better future, a better job and therefore a more sustainable lifestyle.

After I got my degree, I made my second move, this time from a major city to a much smaller town with a different world view from my own. Why? A job, a place to call home and eke out an existence among people I didn’t know.

My third move was to South Korea, not only for a job but for an experience. I wanted to see how others lived and hopefully develop some other skills that I could use further down the road.

And after all that, like a prodigal son, I came back to my hometown – Stratford.

Unlike the families on these farms in The Grapes of Wrath, I could decide whether I wanted to make a move, and why. Landowners didn’t come banging on my door telling me I had to leave home. I wasn’t destitute, forced to move halfway across the country in the hope that I would be able to make some money to support a family – or myself for that matter.

The Joads (and the real-life migrants who inspired their story) had lost it all, but they had hope for a brighter future; they were going to a place that promised a better life, hoping to get back (in a sense) the things they had lost. They were going to make it; they were going to have again the life they had before their land was taken away.

So far, I’ve talked about the Joad family (and given you a little insight into my life), but there’s another character in the book who might at first sight seem utterly trivial – though not for the author. I don’t recall where I read this, but apparently Steinbeck’s favourite parts of The Grapes of Wrath were those involving the turtle.

I must say I really enjoyed those bits too. I felt, while reading about the turtle, that he was moving with a purpose as well – we just don’t know what that purpose might be. The turtle experiences danger and hardship on his expedition but doesn’t let that stop him from carrying on. Once he is able to get back on his journey, after being scooped up by Tom, he heads toward the Southwest.

What journeys have you made? Why have they led you in the directions they did? And for what reasons did you decide to undertake them? These are questions I started asking myself while reading this book – and I hope you’ll ask them too. I’ll be interested to read what you have to say about the Joad family’s travels and the ones you’ve gone on yourself.