Toronto theatrical success to play Performing Arts Centre; Miss Caledonia will appeal to those who remember childhood fantasies.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  November 29, 2012 When Brenda Heatherington took on the task of leading the artistic side of the Performing Arts Centre the city knew they were getting a woman who knew how to create an audience; that they were getting a woman who knew how  to find the talent that would grow an audience in the city.

Brenda Heatherington, chatting up a Performing Arts centre supporter.

They didn’t tell Heatherington that she would also have to juggle the financial side as well and make it work within a budget that was just short of what she felt she needed.  The theatre is days away from the anniversary of its first production.  Royal Oak appeared on December 9th and Denise Walker, the theater’s bag lady at the time, was the first Burlingtonians to step out on the stage and talk to an audience that had bought tickets – but I digress.

Sometime ago Heatherington sought out Melody Johnson who was at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, and booked her for an afternoon show at the Performing Arts centre.  The date happened to be on the same day as the Santa Claus parade, but Melody Johnson didn’t see that as a problem. “Maybe I will draw more people than the parade” she said in her ‘always optimistic’ manner.

Burlington will get a chance to know this growing  actress who writes and directs and comes out of the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto where she has done some excellent work.

Johnson will be performing Miss Caledonia, a one woman story about her Mother who was raised on a farm and wanted to become an entertainer.  The one woman play is about the day dreams and the fantasies that young people have as they think about getting away from home and growing up and becoming something great.

Melody Johnson, on stage during a Miss Caledonia performance.  She appears in Burlington December 2nd.

There is a wonderful scene that has Peggy, the name given to the Mother character, in a milk truck driving into the city.  For anyone with any “Farm” experience you would see the reality of farm life in that scene.  There weren’t regular bus service and often the milk truck was the best transportation service available.  Peggy had decided, in her mind, that she could “magnetize: the milk truck driver and – well you have to see the play to fully appreciate the scene.

There is another where Peggy, gazing at the picture of Bing Crosby on her bedroom wall, slips into her fantasy world.  If the name Bing Crosby doesn’t kindle an old memory then this play may not be for you but for those people who lived in rural setting, understood what it meant to “muck-out” stalls and know what the scent of new mown hay really is – this could be a production you would thoroughly enjoy.

It’s the kind of thing Heatherington brings to Burlington to build an audience and develop an appreciation for performing arts the city hasn’t been able to do without a fully functional building.

The trick is to put good productions on the stage, keep the people in the box office on the stage and let city council feel all warm and snugly as the enterprise grows.  Heatherington might want to look into bringing a production of “I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can” to the city.  She might think of playing the lead role.

Heatherington could go up against Jill Clayburgh any day of the week.

Melody Johnson, does the one woman play Miss Caledonia, the true story of her Mother’s fantasy life as she did everything she could to get off the family farm.

Miss Caledonia is completing its first season at the Tarragon in Toronto; the Burlington production will be the last show for 2012 after which the show goes on the road.  Johnson, who was raised in Brantford said Burlington is a place she always drove through on her way to Brantford.  “I don’t think I’ve ever really been there before”, she said.

Richard Ouzounian, a Toronto theatre critic delights in Melody Johnson’s giggle, which he maintains one of the happiest sounds in Canadian theatre, “caressing the ear even as it reveals characters so unhinged they perch halfway between Stephen King and Steve Martin with the spirit of Elaine May hovering just overhead”.

When this city has enough people who fully understand was  Ouzounian, was saying Heatherington will have succeeded hugely – the task ahead is to keep the Performing Arts Centre alive and open until that day.

Miss Caledonia – at the Performing Arts Centre.  Box office

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