By Nick Bernard
In 2020, the Highlands Summer Festival went dark alongside theatres across the world. Now, with pandemic restrictions lifting, the festival has announced that it will be returning for the 2022 season at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion from July 4 to Aug. 11.
It’s been a long two years, and, according to festival advertising lead Jack Brezina, the excitement around the return of the festival has been building.
“When I go shopping or I’m downtown or whatever, [people] always want to know ‘are you back?’ or ‘are you coming back?’” Brezina told the Times. The Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion, which is located in Haliburton Highlands Secondary School has recently started allowing events to return to the space, while continuing to follow the advice of local health units. This has allowed the festival team to proceed with this year’s program.
“We’re looking at the new [COVID] requirements … we’re aware these things are in flux all the time,” Brezina said. “We are prepared to implement what is required, which right now is proof of vaccination, people wearing masks, etcetera.”
The headlining show this year is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, which opens on July 4 and will run for 10 performances, including three matinees. Other shows include Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and the one-man play Every Brilliant Thing, which Brezina promises is unlike anything the festival has done before.
“We’re going to do theatre-in-the-round,” Brezina said, describing a form of theatre where the audience surrounds the stage at all angles. “It’s a single actor who starts a monologue, but then invites the audience to participate.”
Rounding out the festival lineup is Lucien, about a French man from New Brunswick who shares his wry observations on the world, and Across The Pond, an exploration of the British Invasion featuring live music from Leisa Way and the Wayward Wind Band.
Preparations for the festival have been ongoing, though much of the behind-the-scenes work has been put on hold because of the pandemic.
“Everybody’s been treading water to a certain extent,” said Brezina, “We knew when we shut it down that we’d be doing these shows, so there’s been some preparation taking place … Now we’re about to turn the switch on. So, away we go.”
By the time this year’s season begins, it will have been two years since the festival’s last performance, leaving the community without the immersive cultural dimension the summer theatre series provides.
“It enriches the artistic fabric of the community,” Brezina said, “It makes use of that facility, the high school, the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion which would otherwise sit vacant for the summer.”
Brezina also said that it’s important to have things like live theatre in a given community in order to attract people to live there, as it provides more amenities for locals, tourists, and retirees alike.
“Live theatre says that [Haliburton County] has reached an artistic level that is attractive to a certain part of the community. I think we provide an important asset to the enrichment of the community.”
Auditions will be taking place after the New Year, and will follow all recommended precautions to prevent the spread COVID-19.
“We’re going to be insisting people are double-vaxxed,” Brezina said. “If the distancing is needed … then we’ll rehearse in such a fashion that protects everybody’s well-being.”
When it comes to the actors performing close to each other on stage, Brezina said some scenes can be re-imagined to reduce the risk between actors, audience members, and the stage crew.
“We’re hoping for the best,” he said. “We’re hoping things are going to loosen up.”
Season passes are on sale now for $160, and will be available until Jan. 31, 2022.
The community can also visit the Highlands Summer Festival’s revamped website by visiting highlandssummerfestival.on.ca.