Back back to Artword's welcome page
see below for April run in Hamilton
For immediate release: June 9, 2009
"Tobacco Troubadour": a
love story set in Ontario's tobacco belt
Written and directed by Ronald Weihs, Tobacco Troubadour ran for two weeks in April at The Pearl Company in Hamilton. The audiences loved it and the critics raved. Brian Morton, in View Magazine, call it "truly great", pointing out that "Artword Theatre's new version of the oft-told tale of a life in music is one that is truly authentic, and is chock full of local references that add a hometown resonance to this production".
Tobacco Troubadour is a rich and colourful story about strong-willed individuals with a great capacity for survival - with style, pride and a great sense of fun. They worked hard and played hard. The parties on a Saturday night are legendary.
The play begins as a concert by J. P. Riemens and the Bar Flies. Actors from the Artword Ensemble bring the characters and stories to life, weaving a bitter-sweet love story about a fictionalized Paul and a childhood sweetheart, Emily, as the two grow up and confront the realities of life.
The actors of the Artword Ensemble are Paula Grove, Tanis MacArthur, Gordon Odegaard and Ryan Sero. The Bar Flies are J. P. Riemens (acoustic guitar and lead vocals), Carrie Ashworth (bass), Linda Duemo (drums) and Brian Griffith (lead guitar). Design is by Judith Sandiford.
The idea for the play began at The Pearl Company where J.P. Riemens and the Bar Flies were playing a concert. Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford of Artword Theatre, newly arrived in Hamilton, were struck by the vivid storytelling in J.P.'s songs. Weihs phoned him up the next day and asked if he would consider working on a play based on his songs.
"There's something I've always wanted to do", Riemens replied. "It's a show about growing up in Ontario's tobacco belt. I've written some songs that I've never recorded. I've been saving them for something like this."
One of the songs was "Roosevelt's Dance Hall Saturday Night", about a venue not far from Langton, that hosted some of the top bands in Ontario. "There was a whole circuit in tobacco country", Riemens says. "Some of the top musicians in North America came from that area, and played those dance halls."
Hearing J.P.'s songs, Weihs was struck with how many of them were ballads about love just out of reach. They seemed episodes in an - as yet unwritten - story. He taped J.P. reminiscing about growing up in the tobacco belt, and wove the stories and the songs together into a script.
Artword Theatre develops new, original work that is entertaining, thought-provoking, and relevant to its community. The productions are grounded in an ensemble approach to acting, using music, dance and inventive theatrical techniques. Artword Theatre - Ronald Weihs (Artistic Director) and Judith Sandiford (Managing Director/Resident Designer) - came to Hamilton after a twelve-year history in downtown Toronto. Tobacco Troubadour is the fourth original production with a Hamilton theme in the 2008-2009 "Artword @ The Pearl" season. Earlier in this season were You Are What You Do (October), Rascals and Numskulls (February) and Sunamabeach! (March-April). All four were performed at The Pearl Company at 16 Steven Street, a charming venue run by Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne.
J.P. (Paul) Riemens is a singer/songwriter/producer/performer/bandmaster and all-around music bon vivant. He is well schooled in the areas of roots/rock and country, and pop and jazz. J.P. is equally at home in an intimate acoustic environment as well as the Concert Hall. Riemens is perhaps best known as the co-owner and engineer of the world-renowned Grant Avenue Studio, having worked with such luminaries as Gordon Lightfoot, Daniel Lanois, Keith Glass and Willie P. Bennett. As a performer, Riemens has opened for such acts as Ashley MacIsaac, Fred Eaglesmith, and Melanie Doane. He hosts a songwriter's showcase at The West Town Bar and Grill on Locke Street every Tuesday night, where only original songs are permitted.
Runs July 3 and 4, 2009: Friday July 3 at 8 pm, Saturday July 4 at 3 pm and 8 pm
15 to 26, 2009
Performed by the
Artword Theatre Ensemble:
J.P. Riemens & The Barflies
Wed April 15 at
7:30 pm: SPECIAL all tickets $10
Kyle Weir photo
new show Tobacco Troubadour, tells the story
of a musician in the making, as he grows up in tobacco
country. The story weaves in and around a number of songs
composed by JP Riemens.
right: Tanis MacArthur and Ryan Sero in rehearsal
Roosevelt's Dance Hall by J.P. Riemens (copyright)
Along tobacco road, back in
Well, my dad played in the
It's oh my, wouldn't it be
Left: Gordon Odegaard, Paula Grove Ryan Sero and Tanis MacArthur in rehearsal. JPRiemens on guitar
The Tobacco Belt is the area southwest of Brantford, to the north shore of Lake Erie, centered on Norfolk County. Delhi and Tilsonburg are in the heartland of tobacco country. In the 50s and 60s, the cash crop of choice was tobacco. It grew well in the sandy soil here. And the demand for it was high - back then..
JP Riemens grew up in tobacco country. He was working on a tobacco as a boat-driver when he was 12. He went on in his late teens to become one of the most sought-after kil' hangers in the area. When the season was on, there was plenty of work. There were the jobs for the kids, jobs for the ladies, the jobs for the daredevils, and the all-night jobs with lots of waiting and beer drinking. There were the factions - the Francophones from Northern Ontario, native people from the nearby Grand River communities, and European immigrants from Belgium, Poland or the Ukraine.
And there was always the music. On a Saturday night, everyone, including the kids whose folks played in the bands, went to the local dance hall. People packed their own coolers in their trucks, left out in the parking lot. There was the Roosevelt Dance Hall in Langton, The Summer Gardens in Port Dover, The Hillcrest Hall in Simcoe, The Highlands in Long Point, The Silver Hill, The Stork Club.
Both JP's stepfather and his Francophone godfather, Paul Vincent, were musicians. Paul Vincent was leader singer and played lead guitar in a band called The Continentals. His stepfather was an accordion player. The music - it was what JP calls "outlaw music" - was Texas western swing, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, and anything that got them out on the dance floor for the two-step.
JP bought his first guitar, for $15, with some of his early tobacco earnings. He mostly taught himself to play. Since he didn't have access to many songbooks, he figured he had to make up his own songs, and so he did.
Tobacco Troubadour is a passionate story about hard work and great music, and the willful and wonderful people who did both. As the plot emerges and develops, we see the human cost of the economic decline of the region.
The crop that drove the economy in this area for over 60 years has fallen out of favour, for good reason. The communities that thrived in the tobacco hey-day now struggle to reinvent themselves. But what the farmers are going to do now - that is another story.
Background: Artword Theatres season 2008-2009
The fourth show in Artword's 2008-2009 season in Hamilton is Tobacco Troubadour, a new play based on the songs and stories of J.P. Riemens (of J.P.Riemens and The Barflies), about growing up in Ontarios tobacco country and its lively dance hall scene. The other shows are: Sunamabeach a new show by Charly Chiarelli, an irreverent look at Hamilton, March 25 to April 5. You Are What You Do, an original musical by Ronald Weihs celebrating the lives of working people, launched the season in October 2008 to rave reviews and remounted in December. Rascals and Numskulls (Feb 12 to 22, 2009), a now original work written and directed by Ronald Weihs, tells the thrlling adventures of Robert Land spy for the British in the American Revolution, friend of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, United Empire Loyalist, first white settler in Hamilton, performed by the Artword Theatre Ensemble, with music by Gary Santucci.
Background: Artword Theatre and The Pearl Company
Artword Theatre, the creative team of director Ronald Weihs and designer Judith Sandiford, has been producing original theatre since 1993. Until 2006, Weihs and Sandiford operated a facility (Artword Theatre and Artword Gallery) in downtown Toronto, when their theatre was closed to make way for a condo. After 12 years in downtown Toronto, Artword has pulled up stakes, moved to Hamilton and teamed up with Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne at The Pearl Company.
The Pearl Company is an arts and performance facility owned by guitarist and composer Gary Santucci and arts activist Barbara Milne, located at 16 Steven Street in the heart of the Landsdale neighbourhood of downtown Hamilton. Renovated in 2006, the facility has devoted two of its three floors to the arts. The Pearl Company has launched a number of arts initiatives, including the well-known Art Bus two Fridays a month, the Opus Mundi Festival, theatre workshops and productions, concerts and events and outdoor festivals. For more information about The Pearl Company, visit www.thepearlcompany.ca.