EGANVILLE – Remember when it was commonplace for students to attend a one-room schoolhouse? Or, perhaps being a teacher in one of those schools? In either case, Stone Fence Theatre’s production of Schoolhouse transported audiences back to those days, in a show filled with the challenges teachers faced, the antics students got up to, and the themes of friendship, bullying, loneliness, togetherness and a teacher’s commitment to her students. The production of Schoolhouse, by Leanna Brodie, has all this and more. Its appeal proved enchanting, not only to those who remember the one-room schoolhouse, but to all who have attended this vibrant production.
Stone Fence Theatre has been a vital cultural feature in the Ottawa Valley since 2002, preserving the memory of our roots, heritage, hardships and successes – all in theatrical form. It is a beloved institution, with repeat audiences, and cast members coming back year after year, and newcomers discovering the great entertainment it has to offer.
Stone Fence’s show comprised theatre, music, dance, storytelling and comedy, all with a very distinct Valley flavour.The company takes its name from the miles of stone fences that crisscross Renfrew County, which is a testament to the years of backbreaking work done by the early settlers who cleared the land.
Stone Fence’s Producer and Musical Director Ish Theilheimer has been creating the shows, and many of the musical arrangements, since its inception. Anyone young or old who lives in or around the Valley can truly appreciate, and relate to the skits, music, and humour that reflect their way of life so well.
Stone Fence productions symbolize a true kitchen party, each show being preceded by a delicious dinner of local roast beef and fresh veggies, prepared and served by head cook, Kathy Eisner, and many other volunteers, including Arlene Goldie.
“This year’s show has gotten so good, and everything in the kitchen runs smoothly because we have such well-trained volunteers. Attendance has been fantastic, sold-out shows and nothing but praise for the whole production; from the excellent casting down to the small details, it’s all worked very well,” Goldie said.
Last year, however, for the first time in many, audience numbers were way down due to a number of factors, but most prominently the state of the economy. This was a great shame as 2011’s production, The Opeongo Opera, a collection of songs and skits about the Valley, from the sinking of the Mayflower, to the hilarious Redneck Riviera, to Wilno and its famous hound, was outstanding.
The show had audiences in stitches and there was much hilarity, clapping and singing along. The show included 11 performers, such as well known singer-songwriters Ken Ramsden (aka Rev. Ken) and Terry McLeish, plus newcomers, 13-year-old Emma March, Ontario Fiddle Champion (18 and under), and her younger brother Will. The cast was backed up by three musicians including Theilheimer.
However, sales were so bad Theilheimer wondered if Stone Fence had a future at all, but luckily he made the decision that the show must go on and, this year prepared his cast for a production of Schoolhouse, celebrating the one-room school house of the late 30’s.
In an era where teachers worked hard to help their students succeed, often under very challenging conditions, not least withstanding the age range between students in one room, and the fact that many were expected to skip school, because chores at home or on the farm came first. For the first time in its history, Stone Fence chose a regular play rather than a musical, but the show still featured excellent music by Peter Brown, and the talented young fiddlers/step dancers, Emma and Will March.
Story continues in the October 31, 2012 issue of The Valley Gazette.