June 27th to August 25th
First Ontario Performing Arts Centre
Call it fate, destiny, or whatever you will, Actor and Producer Emily Oriold was destined to work with esteemed Canadian playwright Norm Foster.
Growing up near Listowel, ON the Blyth Festival was a summer tradition of Oriold’s. She was fresh out of high school when she saw Norm Foster’s play The Melville Boys. Oriold was inspired by the experience. “I fell in love with it and felt it was the best play I had ever seen. I decided to become an actor and director,” explains Oriold, who thought it would be a great idea to have a live theatre company for a living Canadian playwright. “I immediately designed a logo for the Foster Festival.”
Oriold continued to build her portfolio as a professional actor in Toronto while working as Director of Marketing and Sales for a company specializing in Audience Development. Ten years quickly passed and Oriold still held onto the logo she had designed for her idea for the Norm Foster Festival. “I talked to a variety of people to find out what it takes to run a festival,” explains Oriold. With a business plan in hand, Oriold contacted Foster. “He said, ‘Let’s meet,’” recalls Foster.
Oriold met her idol in September of 2014. “He was pleased with the idea for the Festival and recommended Patricia Vanstone for Artistic Director,” says Oriold. “We met in Patricia’s kitchen in November and Norm said he had fond memories of performing in the Niagara Region,” says Oriold. “After reading the 2020 culture plan for the City of St. Catharines, from a marketing perspective it just made sense.” Oriold completed the not-for-profit application and as she describes, “we hit the ground running and haven’t looked back.”
Oriold quickly established a partnership with the Marilyn I Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts and filled a space in their venue that will provide entertainment in the off season.
Foster’s plays are heartfelt comedies that deal directly with life’s ups and downs. “You may laugh one minute and shed a tear the next,” says Oriold. You recognize the character on the stage either in yourself or someone else. His works are quite profound and relatable,” explains Oriold.
“It is nice when people approach me and say ‘Thank you, I needed to laugh today,’” says Oriold. “We want you to come and share the laughter with us.”
“There are currently 11 actors in the company for the summer line up,” says Oriold. “Norm writes two new world premieres a year exclusively for the festival and we produce a third play from his life’s collection.” The festival runs from June 27th to August 25th, 2018. Each of the three plays are on stage for a duration of three weeks for a total of 56 shows.
Fans are not the only ones who enjoy experiencing a new play from Foster. “What actors love about a new world premiere play is how they get to create the character. They are not walking in the shadow of the person who played the role before them,” explains Oriold. “They are the original cast to perform it.”
In the off season Oriold is busy with charity work and partnerships. “We run a youth drama club for the Kristen French Advocacy Centre where we work with 16 year-old girls who have experienced a traumatic event and help them heal through the arts,” says Oriold. “The St. Catharines Rotary Club graciously donated funds for us to meet the needs and expand the program to work with girls aged 9-11.” Oriold also works with the Niagara Children’s Centre to provide children with disabilities an opportunity to participate in a six week dramatic program that ends with a presentation for family and friends.
In partnership with the Marilyn I Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, Oriold’s sets are built by students gaining valuable experience in the field of set design and carpentry. “We wanted to give students an out of school experience and we are happy to give them their first experience in the field,” explains Oriold, who was the recipient of the 2017 Women in Business Award for Excellence in Tourism and the 2017 Niagara 40 Under 40 Business Achievement Award.
While Oriold and Vanstone were working together on the Foster Festival the two realized that the very first play that Oriold saw so many years ago at the Blyth Festival was directed by Vanstone. It was just meant to be. For more information visit fosterfestival.com.