Blyth Festival in southwestern Ontario specializes in Canadian plays; plays premiered there have been staged across Canada. Started by director James Roy, playwright Anne Chislett and local newspaper editor Keith Roulston in 1975, the festival produces plays aimed first at local audiences and secondarily at visitors, and enjoys strong community support. The festival has restored and added to the Memorial Hall, which was built 1919-20 but allowed to fall into disrepair.
Although there was no theatrical tradition in Blyth, Theatre Passe Muraille's seminal collective creation The Farm Show had been developed in nearby Clinton. Similar local history collectives (eg, The Blyth Memorial History Show) became part of Blyth's early repertoire and Farm Show participants, especially Janet Amos, Blyth artistic director 1979-84, contributed much to the festival's success.
Katherine Kaszas, artistic director 1984-91, hoped to develop the popular plays that ensured the festival's national stature. Her replacement, Peter Smith, took over in 1991 and endured a recession that saw attendance plummet and deficits soar. Janet Amos returned in 1994 to try to recapture the fiscal and artistic vitality of the 1970s. Since November 1997, artistic director Anne Chislett has confirmed the festival's early commitment to Canadian plays and maintained the fiscal health of the organization.
Blyth offerings have dealt with local issues (eg, Ted Johns's He Won't Come in From the Barn) and others have been adapted from the stories of regional writers Harry Boyle and Alice Munro. However, Blyth is best known across Canada for Peter Colley's thriller I'll Be Back Before Midnight, Anne Chislett's award-winning drama Quiet in the Land and its comedies, such as Colleen Curran's Cake-Walk.