Sylvia Barks Up a Laugh

Here is what the Haliburton Echo had to say about Sylvia in its July 20, 2010 edition:

By Angelica Blenich

Sylvia is man’s best friend.

A delightful and delicious dog, played by theatre veteran Jocelyn Regina, Sylvia is the heart and title of a vibrant new comedy currently playing at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion as part of the Highlands Summer Festival.

Running from now until July 30, the heartwarming tale features a married couple, Greg and Kate, who decide to adopt a dog for a short period of time only to discover Sylvia may be more than they bargained for. [Editor’s note, the play includes adult language and a mature subject and is not suitable for young ages.]

A play about the relationship between a man and his four-legged friend, Sylvia is a complex study of human emotions and opportunities. Through the eyes of a dog and her masters, the audience witnesses to the true meaning of love in all its forms.

A dog’s life however, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Just ask Regina.

A musical theatre performance student entering her final year of studies at Sheridan College, Regina is no stranger to Haliburton or the summer festival. Currently in her 10th season with the festival, Regina believes taking on the role of a canine was a lot for her to chew.

“It’s a really interesting challenge,” said Regina on what drew her to the character of Sylvia. “It’s not something you have the opportunity to do a lot of so I was excited to have such a big role to focus on and work on.

“At school we do so much scene study where you only do one scene from the show and then you have to move onto the next class because everything moves so fast. We don’t get the opportunity to work on something so in depth for such a long period of time.”

Regina’s first ties to the Highlands Summer Festival came when she was only a child, thanks to some strong family connections.

“I started to become involved with the festival by doing front of house and stage crew when I was young,” said Regina. “My parents were some of the founding members of the festival, so I’ve been going to see shows ever since it has started as well as being involved.

“The opportunities I’ve had here have been amazing and definitely helped me develop and grow as an actress and realize this is what I’m really passionate about.”

Although having the honour of playing the title character, Regina believes there is more to the play than just a dog.

“The show’s name is Sylvia but it really is an ensemble production,” said Regina. “There are only four members in the cast and the relationship between the husband and wife is one of the main points of the play, as well as the relationship between the dog and husband, her owner.

“They go through a lot of stuff during the course of the show and I think it’s really moving,” said Regina.

Under the direction of Laurence Follows, a member of one of Canada’s most prestigious theatrical families, Sylvia was brought to new levels.

A part-time resident of Haliburton, this was the first time he became involved with the festival.

Follows, who teaches at the University of Toronto, was connected to the festival through artistic producer Scot Denton, however his first encounter with the festival happened under a peculiar set of circumstances.

“I went for a walk one day through the woods and found an old logger’s path,” said Follows. “I noticed someone had built a new home and went to look at it thinking no one had moved in yet. Wrong! The people were there and it ended up being Betty and David [Mills] who are involved with the festival. We sat down and started chatting and that’s how I started getting involved, through trespassing!”

The experience of directing Sylvia, said Follows, was both professionally challenging and life changing.

“The play is quite popular as it’s done quite a bit,” said Follows. “It was really a fantastic experience. I’ve worked a long time in professional theatre but there was something really extra special about this.

“You work with people where this is not their profession. They have a lot of other things they have to do. They came in with a kind of dedication and work ethic in the hopes to make that play the best they possibly could and surrounded by a community of people who went above and beyond what you could even ask for in professional theatre.

“What was really thrilling for me was that it went beyond the play. It was an expression of the community.

“The actors worked really hard to communicate that play in a way that would influence and entertain and move and inspire the community. They’re really doing it to make a difference.”

For Regina, it was the dedication and work ethic that Follows had that made the difference.

“He has such high expectations and such a commitment to excellence,” said Regina. “He knows what he wants and he doesn’t let you get away with anything. He’s always pushing and has brought the level of this play to new levels.

“I’m really happy to be working with him because I felt really inspired all summer. It’s work but it’s a lot of fun too.”

Apart from the theatrical opportunity, Follows admits the play and the festival changed his perspective of Haliburton.

“For me I went from someone who was living up here part-time and loving it to someone who now has a community,” said Follows. “You feel like you’re at home.”

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