Joan Finnigan, daughter of Shawville's Frank Finnigan, poet and author of 28 books, died in 2007. Now her legendary stories of life in the Ottawa Valley are brought to life in I Come From the Valley, a new musical by Stone Fence Theatre.
The cast of I Come From the Valley: standing from left, Phil Goden, Luna Nordholdt, Nigel Epps and Jocelyn Smith. Fran Pinkerton, seated, plays Joan Finnigan. Photo courtesy Stone Fence Theatre.
Pontiac2020.ca took the opportinity to ask Ish Theilheimer, the play's writer and Stone Fence's company producer, some questions about this amazing new production.
Pontiac2020.ca: How did the idea of making a play about Joan come about?
Ish Theilheimer: I've been a Joan Finnigan fan a long time. When we started our company 15 years ago, we got permission from her to perform some of her stories and she appeared to do readings twice with us in our early years and we became friends. The idea really took shape after a memorial gathering for her about five years ago at which I heard former MPP and Ontario Cabinet minister Sean Conway, who was a good friend of hers, recite some of her poetry. Sean helped me quite a bit developing the script.
P2020: How did you choose the actor to play Joan?
IT: We chose actors we'd worked with in the past for the most part, though we did hold auditions and brought in a couple of new ones that way.
Joan Finnigan at about age 50. (Photo submitted)
P2020.ca: Was it difficult to condense so many stories into a reasonably lengthed show?
IT: Very! There was a trove of great material in her archives at Queens University too, so the process of picking and choosing was arduous! The material I found at the archives added a lot to my understanding of who Joan was.
P2020.ca: How did Joan really capture the spirit of this area in her stories?
IT: She was a tireless and prolific writer and also a dedicated researcher. She spent years traversing the Valley and interviewing people at great length, recording and transcribing thousands of hours of interviews. It an amazing record. The project was fascinating for me. I learned more about Joan than I'd imagined, and the show presents many facets of her life and personality that few people were aware of. She had a very difficult life with many challenges and obstacles but she was a very determined person. She was also a very controversial one, someone who spoke her mind freely and who often upset people with what she wrote. Her award-winning film Best Damned Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar was poorly received by local Ottawa Valley people who found it disparaging, despite Joan's insistence that the script was a love story to the Valley.
Joan at work at the typewriter, mid 70's. (Photo submitted)
IT: She was and independent-minded woman who made a living on her own in a man's world, but she and the 70s feminists disliked one another quite a lot! In a way, she was an anti-feminist feminist. Her life was full of contradictions and ironies. Most of all, she was a consumate artist, both as a story teller and a poet. It is my hope that our show will revive her legacy.
Frank Finnegan's hockey card. (Photo submitted)
IT: Another important theme in the show is hockey. Joan's father, Frank Finnigan, from Shawville, was one of hockey's first superstars and also a man who overcame a terrible drinking problem that plagued him throughout her childhood. He played a huge role in her life.
P2020.ca: Where is the show being performed?
IT: We are performing the show ten times this fall throughout the Valley. We're in Shawville September 29 at the Dr. S.E. McDowell Elementary School and at the Bronson Centre in Ottawa November 18. Other locations are listed at http://www.stonefence.ca/season-calendar/
Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.stonefence.ca/tickets/ or by phone, toll-free, at 1-866-310-1004.