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Kingston’s First Ditch Collective enjoying international successes

Much has happened for local artists Shannon Kingston and James Hyett in the year since the Theatre Kingston Storefront Fringe Festival’s 2021 debut of their family-centric play, Through the Fairy Circle.

Together with Toronto multidisciplinary theatre artist, Uri Livne-Bar, Hyett and Kingston collaborate on creative theatre and drama projects under the name First Ditch Collective. “It was a little play on words,” said Kingston, “because we got together during the pandemic to see what we could create from home and in those circumstances. We had wanted to do audio plays for a long time. And I just said to James, ‘Well, I have a script I’ve kind of been working on — let me just see what I can do with it.’ It was a first ditch idea.”

That ‘first ditch idea’ has taken off in a big way, and their Kingston-born play Through The Fairy Circle is now seeing success internationally. Currently, the audio play is part of the Atlanta Fringe Festival, which has made it free to stream worldwide for the entire month of May 2022. 

Inspired by the landscape of Wolfe Island, the richly-described audio play tells the story of Denny, a young girl who lives in an old island farmhouse with her father and sister. Unfortunately, the family is currently experiencing a string of bad luck. Determined to solve the problem, Denny sets out to find a fairy who will give her good luck, even if it means becoming a fairy herself.

Told through audio with text captions, Through the Fairy Circle is enjoyable for adults and children alike, exploring family, nature, systems of authority, and growing up.

Currently, the audio play is part of the Atlanta Fringe Festival, which has made it free to stream worldwide for the entire month of May 2022. Artwork supplied.

In November 2022, First Ditch will be debuting a new play in collaboration with Cellar Door, a site-specific theatre company in Kingston, at CFRC 101.9 FM’s Shortwave Theatre Festival. The free week-long festival of radio drama features a series of plays created by and featuring Kingston-based artists. 

The new First Ditch production is called Garden of Edith. Kingston noted that, like Through the Fairy Circle, “It’s really about a family. It’s about… a coming of age story, discovering things about magic that helps her grow… And learning a little bit about her home.”

In November 2022, First Ditch Collective will be debuting a new play called Garden of Edith in collaboration with Cellar Door at CFRC 101.9 FM’s Shortwave Theatre Festival. Artwork supplied.

However, whereas the Wolfe Island scene of Through the Fairy Circle is inhabited by mythical fairies, Garden of Edith‘s magical cast of characters centers around gnomes. Kingston calls it “a very cute little story about several dozen gnomes living in a neighbourhood.”

In the play’s story, three main gnomes, Fibble, Griddle, and Gus, befriend the young protagonist, Edith, as well as her gender-fluid Uncle Arnold, in what Kingstonians will recognize as the neighbourhood of Kingscourt. “That’s where I grew up,” said Kingston. “The landscape of it is very much directly how it was when I was a kid in the early 2000s.”

While exploring one day, Edith discovers the gnomes living in a secret garden behind her late grandfather’s house. Meanwhile, Edith’s Uncle Arnold has returned to the home to prepare it for sale. Together, Edith, Arnold, and the gnomes learn to see their home, their family, and their future in a whole new way. With humour and depth, Garden of Edith explores intergenerational connection, community, and everyday magic.

Reflecting on her writing, Kingston said, “I’m kind of coping with and dealing with the consequences of [selling a home or moving]. Over the last few years, housing prices got inflated in a crazy way, and we, as adults, know all the reasons why people are moving, why people are buying houses like crazy. And as a kid, all that is confusing. So, the play tries to explore this real crisis that’s happening in Kingston and in the neighbourhood that I grew up in, which is very much changing the landscape. And we wanted to explore what that meant for Edith and her family, and the community at large — and that’s explored through this really lovely story about magic and gnomes. I think it’s enjoyable for kids and adults alike.”

First Ditch Collective is eager to see what the future holds. The group has received Canada Council Funding for a yet-to-be-determined European festival tour in 2023. “We’re just very excited,” said Kingston, noting that she hopes listeners will experience Through the Fairy Circle for free online at the Atlanta Fringe Festival. 

Learn more about First Ditch Collective by visiting their website or following them for updates on Instagram.

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