Sunlight floods into the rehearsal studio of Toronto’s Elgin Theatre from a massive window as Dawn Greenhalgh finds her mark on a small white strip of tape. The celebrated matriarch of the Follows act— ing family glances at her script while another cast member—her 10-year-old granddaughter Lyla, who plays the role of Dawn as a child—pirouettes in time with the piano. The scene is part of the family’s new Gravenhurst, Ont., production, The Originals, a play celebrating the three pioneering Straw Hat Players—Dawn, 68, her ex-husband Ted, 73, and Araby Lockhart, 75. As Dawn settles into her part, a subtle anxiety creeps into her gravelly voice as she describes her first theatre experience and how she got her start 59 years ago entertaining in a Japanese POW camp.
It’s a tough, emotional moment. Son Laurence, 39, the director, crouches on one knee a few metres in front of her and waits patiently before interjecting. Edwina Follows, Dawn’s 41-year-old daughter and the playwright, sits nearby at a long table and adjusts her floppy garden hat. Other daughter Megan—Lyla’s famous
mother, best known for her lead role in Anne of Green Gables—watches from near the door. Ted, also in the cast, has disappeared to fill his coffee cup. Laurence calls for the pianist to stop and Dawn exclaims in jest, “I’ve been in the business for 50 years and I’m being told what to do by my kids! ” The Straw Hat Players were the first professional summer theatre company in Canada. From 1948 to 1955, they performed 62 different productions at the Gravenhurst Opera House in Ontario’s cottage country. That story, as much family history as an integral part of Canada’s theatrical development, appealed to Laurence, who hatched the idea for The Originals and then convinced the others to participate (the only missing sibling is Samantha, an L.A.-based actress). And though all except Lyla are professionals in the field, working with family can still pose some challenges—you have to be even more sensitive with each other, says Laurence. “You can be more harsh but more compassionate,” he adds. “A lot more trusting, a lot more patient.”
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