Stage Door News
Stratford: Play about Stratford Festival founder Tom Patterson to be staged May 15
Monday, May 9, 2022
Who was Tom Patterson before he founded Stratford’s famous Shakespearean theatre festival?
Playwright Julia Rank and actor Scott Beaudin are hoping to shine some light on a portion of Patterson’s early life – the roughly five years he served overseas during the Second World War – through a theatrical reading of Rank’s play, Love, Tom, this Sunday afternoon at Gallery Stratford’s The Shed performance space.
“This all started quite a few years ago when I discovered some letters from Tom,” said Rank, careful not to give away too much from the play. “Like everybody, I know about Tom founding the Stratford Festival, but I didn’t know about this kid who went off to war at 19 and turned 20 the day he sailed for England. He stayed there for five years. He didn’t come back until he was 25.
“I was just interested to read how he grew from this kid selling hotdogs from a stand in Stratford to who he ended up five years later after he’d been through things that were not as bad as some (experienced) but worse than others, and just the experience of being through war.”
Drawing from wartime letters, as well as archival material and research trips to where Patterson was stationed in England during the war, Rank says there are hints in the letters of the man who would ultimately convince politicians, actors, members of the local construction industry and others to take a chance on his dream for world-class theatre in Stratford.
“When you’re reading the letters, you can see him starting to mature. … You can also kind of see in his writings where the Festival came from. He’s got this inner chutzpah. He’s got this inner, ‘Just go for it,’ you know? He was doing it in England and he did it when he came back,” Rank said.
For his part – the only role in the one-person performance – Beaudin said he was able to learn Patterson’s mannerisms by studying archival footage while getting a sense of how Patterson, as a young man, saw the world and conflict around him through his letters home.
“One thing I want to be mindful of as a performer is how not just beloved Tom is, but how well-researched Tom is within this town and how much locals know about him,” Beaudin said. “Those who are passionate – people who are going to be interested in this project – are people who are very interested in watching archival footage and studying photographs.”
This Sunday’s performance, which will be staged in the new performance space at Gallery Stratford beginning at 2 p.m., will come just days after the Stratford Festival celebrates the grand opening of its new Tom Patterson Theatre on Lakeside Drive with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 10. This year also marks the festival’s 70th season – a true testament to Patterson’s vision when he managed to pull off the Stratford Shakespearean Festival’s first successful season on an outdoor thrust stage in Upper Queens Park all the way back in 1953.
“I think people who are a fan of the Stratford Festival will have heard that ‘founding’ story many times, but I think this is how they can connect to their city and their festival in a new way – from a new perspective – that fleshes out this very interesting man,” Beaudin said.
Like the delayed grand opening of the new theatre that bears Patterson’s name, Love, Tom was initially meant to be staged in 2021 before pandemic restrictions delayed those plans for another year. However, with last fall’s opening of The Shed at Gallery Stratford, Rank and Beaudin said they are excited to be able to revive the play as a theatrical reading.
“This is what this space is about – to give artists opportunities to try new works or to present in different settings,” gallery curator Angela Brayham said. “We’re not trying to compete with the big theatres in town. We’re a contemporary art gallery, so we like the idea of fostering new ideas. … So this is a perfect example of what we’re trying to do … and the fact that it’s the first thing to kick off the season (at The Shed) this is year is wonderful, special and kind of meant to be.”
At $20 each, tickets for Love, Tom can be purchased at www.canadahelps.org, or by calling the gallery at 519-271-5271. Tickets will also be available at the door on Sunday.
By Galen Simmons for www.stratfordbeaconherald.com.