I come from the Valley! Tales and times of Joan Finnigan

Joan Finnigan, in her prime, at the typewriter  (Photo submitted)

Stone Fence Theatre aims for the heart and the funny bone in its new 2018 musical that is sure to fire up Valley pride and get a lot of people talking. I Come from the Valley! Tales and Times of Joan Finnigan brings to life the stories that the Valley’s most illustrious author, Joan Finnigan, collected from Valley old-timers as well as the tumultuous times she lived through. The show is written by the company’s producer, Ish Theilheimer, with Johanna Zomers and is directed by Chantal Elie-Sernoskie. It presents a grab-bag of the author’s funniest and most poignant stories, many of them in musical form for the first time.

Joan Finnigan, who published 28 books, was the daughter of one of the NHL’s first super-stars, Frank Finnigan. Raised in Roaring Twenties Ottawa, her parents came from Shawville, Quebec, which was her second home as a child. There, she absorbed the Valley’s story-telling tradition.

When, in the mid-’60s, she suddenly became a single mother of three, she rejected all sensible options and set out to raise them on what she could earn as a freelance writer. She had a huge success with the script she wrote for NFB film Best Damned Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar, which became Canada’s Film of the Year in 1969.

Joan became a Canadian literary celebrity in the ’70s but turned from that to focus on what really drove her – collecting oral histories from the Valley’s old-timers before their stories died with them. Always outspoken and often controversial, Joan, herself, was a literary giant. The play follows her life and work in story and song – most of the songs set to traditional Celtic tunes in light of Joan’s Irish roots. Playwright Ish Theilheimer and his songwriting collaborator Johanna Zomers are both great admirers of Finnigan’s work. It draws on the jokes, yarns and history she picked up in literally thousands of hours of interviewing she did with Valley people in kitchens, taverns and barnyards in the ’70s and ’80s. The company, celebrating its 15th anniversary this season, is producing the show and touring with it throughout the Valley.


Vocalist and acting veteran Fran Pinkerton stars as Joan Finnigan (Photo submitted)

The songs and dialogue in the show are drawn, as much as possible, from Joan Finnigan’s works and words, including stories, poetry and personal interviews. Stone Fence Theatre favourite Fran Pinkerton assumes the title role of Joan Finnigan and is supported by a talented cast of Stone Fence Theatre veterans and new faces.

The music is Celtic and Irish in flavour, with most of the songs based on traditional Irish fiddle and pipe tunes. Musical accompaniment is by the Donohue Family of Douglas – Aidan (17), Mhari (15), Hannah (13), Kieran (10), and their mother Siobheann, who is a member of Lakefield, Ontario’s famous Leahy family. All are multi-instrumentalists and born show people.


The Donohue family: Hanna, Siobheann, Aidan, Mhari, (front) Kieran  (Photo submitted)

Seventeen performances are planned, with five summer supper shows in Rankin and one in Barry’s Bay, and a stop in Sheenboro, Quebec. This fall there will be performances in Westmeath, Almonte, Shawville, Killaloe, Renfrew (with supper), Rankin (with supper), Deep River and Ottawa, all places that Joan knew and loved.

This season, the company is introducing some innovations to launch the new show. There will be a dress rehearsal open to the public, with admission by donations, on July 11. Opening night, July 12, features a talk-back session following the show at which audience members can talk with the cast and crew about the show and ask questions. Both dress rehearsal and opening night will be held in Rankin.

Also on tap this season is an August 7 concert – an Ottawa Valley Jubilee. It features the Ottawa Valley’s favourite singer, Gail Gavan, who returns to Stone Fence Theatre after several years’ absence, with one of the Valley’s, and Canada’s, greatest fiddlers, Louis Schryer, along with a host of other musical guests helping celebrate the Stone Fence Theatre’s 15th anniversary.

Stone Fence Theatre, the theatrical voice of the Ottawa Valley since 2003, has introduced a new online ticketing system this year that enables customers to choose their own seats and tables at supper theatre shows and purchase tickets more easily than ever.. Click HERE for the company’s website at www.stonefence.ca . Box office phone number is 613-628-6600 (or toll-free 1-866-310-1004).


Theilheimer, I. (2018, June 22) I Come from the Valley! Tales and Times of Joan Finnigan – Stone Fence Theatre aims for the heart and funnybone [Press release].

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