Tobacco Troubadour, returns May 1-5, 2013

TobaccoTroubadour_poster7_2013_300_660Artword Theatre’s lively musical, Tobacco Troubadour, is returning to Hamilton for six performances at The Lyric Theatre, May 1 to 5, 2013. Based on the songs and memories of J.P. Riemens, Tobacco Troubadour is a tender love story set in the glory days of tobacco farming. This is the final show in Artword Theatre’s four-play season at The Lyric 2012-2013.

Tobacco Troubadour is based on the songs of J.P. Riemens, a well-known songwriter and performer in the Hamilton music scene. Ronald Weihs wrote the script and directs the production, performed by actors from the Artword Theatre Ensemble: Pamela Gardner, Paula Grove, Gordon Odegaard and Ryan Sero. Music is performed live by J.P. Riemens and the Fabulous Barflies: Brian Griffith and Carrie Ashworth.

Tobacco Troubadour is a musical play set in Ontario’s tobacco belt in the early 1960s. It begins as a concert by J.P. Riemens and the Fabulous Barflies, a hot country rock and swing band from Hamilton. When J.P. starts to reminisce about his childhood on a tobacco farm, the actors of the Artword Ensemble bring his words to life. They enact a bitter-sweet love story about two young people – Paul and Emily – who grow up together working in tobacco. The story is based on J.P.’s own experiences, both in the tobacco fields and on the road as a working musician.

The Barflies: JP Riemens, Brian Griffith, Carrie Ashworth. Actors: Gordon Odegaard, Pamela Gardner, Ryan Sero, Paula Grove

Tobacco Troubadour is a rich and colourful story about strong-willed individuals with a great capacity for survival – with style, pride and a great sense of fun. They worked hard and played hard. The parties on a Saturday night are legendary.

Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford of Artword Theatre attended a concert by Riemens in 2008, and were struck by the vivid storytelling in J.P.’s songs. Weihs phoned him up the next day and asked if he would consider working on a play based on his songs. “There’s something I’ve always wanted to do”, Riemens replied. “It’s a show about growing up in Ontario’s tobacco belt. I’ve written some songs that I’ve never recorded. I’ve been saving them for something like this.” One of the songs was Roosevelt’s Dance Hall Saturday Night, about a venue not far from Langton, that hosted some of the top bands in Ontario. “There was a whole circuit in tobacco country”, Riemens says. “Some of the top musicians in North America came from that area, and played those dance halls.”

Hearing J.P.’s songs, Weihs was struck with how many of them were ballads about love just out of reach. They seemed episodes in an – as yet unwritten – story. He taped J.P. reminiscing about growing up in the tobacco belt, and wove the stories and the songs together into a script.

Tobacco Troubadour ran for two weeks in April 2009 in Hamilton at The Pearl Company. The audiences loved it and the critics raved. Brian Morton, in View Magazine, call it “truly great”, pointing out that “Artword Theatre’s new version of the oft-told tale of a life in music is one that is truly authentic, and is chock full of local references that add a hometown resonance to this production”. The production toured to Delhi in July 2009, playing to enthusiastic audiences who knew all about the glory days of tobacco.

Artword Theatre – Ronald Weihs (Artistic Director) and Judith Sandiford (Managing Director/Resident Designer) – came to Hamilton after a twelve-year history in downtown Toronto. They operated a major theatre facility and art gallery on Portland Street, near King and Bathurst. Artword Theatre develops new, original work that is entertaining, thought-provoking, and relevant to its community. The productions are grounded in an ensemble approach to acting, using music, dance and inventive theatrical techniques.

J.P. (Paul) Riemens is a singer/songwriter/producer/performer/bandmaster and all-around music bon vivant. He is well schooled in the areas of roots/rock and country, and pop and jazz. J.P. is equally at home in an intimate acoustic environment as well as the Concert Hall. Until recently, Riemens co-owner and engineer of the world-renowned Grant Avenue Studio, having worked with such luminaries as Gordon Lightfoot, Daniel Lanois, Keith Glass and Willie P. Bennett. As a performer, Riemens has opened for such acts as Ashley MacIsaac, Fred Eaglesmith, and Melanie Doane.

Artword Theatre Announces 2012-13 Season at the new Lyric Tbeatre

Artword Theatre Announces 2012-13 Season at the new Lyric Tbeatre

Artword Theatre is back in action in Hamilton, presenting a series of four productions at the new Lyric Theatre on King Street at Locke.

The Artword team, Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford, ran a successful theatre facility in Toronto for twelve years before coming to Hamilton in 2008. Artword Theatre produced four original plays at the Pearl Company in 2008-09. Then Ron and Judith bought a little sports bar on Colbourne Street, just off James North, and turned it into the popular Artword Artbar, featuring music of all varieties, theatre, poetry and spoken word four nights a week, Wednesday to Saturday. When Patrick Brennan announced plans for converting the Westside Concert Theatre into the new Lyric Theatre, he got in touch with Ron and Judith right away, offering to co-produce four shows with them. It was a delightful offer that Artword could not refuse.

#1: Artword’s season kicks off October 18 to 20, 2012 with 1812 – The Songbook, a rollicking sing-along in music hall style. Hamilton’s popular folk ensemble What the Folk (Terry Ball, Geoff Ball, Carolyn Reid, Caroline Olsen and drummer Eric Hanenberg) sing songs about the War of 1812, and the audience is invited to join in. Illustrated songbooks with the lyrics, and interesting anecdotes about the war, are passed out before every show. Judith Sandiford’s dedicated research unearthed a treasure-trove of rousing songs from the period, assembled and scripted by Sandiford and Ronald Weihs.  Music arrangements are by What the Folk. The show is in cabaret format, with beverages available to loosen up the throat.

Thursday to Saturday at 8 pm, October 18 to 20, 2012
Thurs: $19 regular, $16 seniors and students
Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students and seniors
Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, near Locke Street, (905) 527-6135.

#2 From November 29 – December 8, Artword presents James Street, a light-hearted look at the history of Hamilton. Written and directed by Ronald Weihs, with music by Mark McNeil, James Street features Charly Chiarelli – whose stories about growing up Sicilian in Hamilton introduced the North End to the world. Charly plays a modern Hamiltonian who mysteriously encounters a legendary figure from Hamilton’s early days – Paoli Brown, town crier and one of the leaders of Hamilton’s African-Canadian community.  Together they witness a headlong and hilarious dash through Hamilton’s history as sketched out by an ensemble of actors. Mark McNeil, a well-known journalist around town, is also a talented songwriter and master of multiple guitar styles. He plays an ever-present street musician, who is joined by other members of the company for different musical numbers. The design, by Judith Sandiford, features a street stretching the length of the theatre, and a tumultuous streetcar ride.

Thursday to Saturday, 8 pm, Nov 29, 30, Dec 1, 6, 7, 8, 2012
Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, near Locke Street, (905) 527-6135.
Thurs: $19 regular, $16 seniors and students
Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students and seniors
Preview: Wednesday, Nov 28 at 8 pm, all tickets $10

#3. January 30 to February 3, 2013. If Cows Could Fly, Allan Merovitz’s musical play about growing up Jewish in Smith’s Falls,  is a perennial Artword favorite. Allan is known internationally as an interpreter of Klezmer and Yiddish songs, and If Cows Could Fly is full of that infectious music. Directed and developed by Ronald Weihs, Cows has seen several Toronto productions, at Artword Theatre and the Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront. The production features an live Klezmer Ensemble directed by Frank Rackow. An Artword production in 2008, originating in Hamilton, had a highly successful run in Ottawa, in the inaugural season of the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre. Patrick Langston of the Ottawa Citizen said “don’t miss this show”, and Alvina Ruprecht of the CBC said “I laughed, I cried, I had a wonderful time”.

Wednesday to Saturday at 8 pm, Jan 30 – Feb 2, 2013, Sunday matinee Feb 3 at 2 pm, 2013.
Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, near Locke Street, (905) 527-6135.
Wed, Thurs & Sun: $19 regular, $16 seniors and students
Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students and seniors

#4. Artword’s spring offering is a revival of Tobacco Troubadour, May 2 – 11, a coming-of-age musical based on the songs of J.P. (Paul) Riemens, written and directed by Ronald Weihs. Paul grew up as a “bunkhouse brat” in the tobacco fields of Ontario. Shortly after Ron and Judith arrived in Hamilton, they heard J.P. Riemens and the Barflies play in concert. Struck by the rich storytelling quality of the songs, Ron approached Paul that very night, and Tobacco Troubadour was born. The play begins with J.P. and the Barflies playing a concert, when suddenly actors emerge and a tender love story starts to unfold, weaving in and out with the songs that inspired the play.  The original production in April 2009 was called “truly great” by View Magazine, with “memorable songs, compelling performances and characters that we care about”.  The production was taken to Delhi, in the heart of the Tobacco region, in July, 2009, to packed houses.

Thursday to Saturday at 8 pm, May 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 2013
Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, near Locke Street, (905) 527-6135.
Thurs: $19 regular, $16 seniors and students
Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students and seniors

Seasons tickets are available at $68 for all four plays, or $49 for any three plays. Call Artword Theatre at 905-543-8512 for details.

For more information, contact Judith Sandiford,,
905-543-8512, cell: 905-912-9083

Artword Theatre
Artistic Director: Ronald Weihs
Managing Director: Judith Sandiford,, 905-543-8512, cell: 905-912-9083
Artword Theatre also runs Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne Street Hamilton,

Tobacco Troubadour, April 15-26 & July 3-4, 2009

Tobacco Troubadour, a new play with music about growing up in tobacco country and its lively dance hall scene, is the fourth show in Artword’s 2008-09 season at The Pearl Company, April 15-26, 2009.
The show is based on the songs of J.P. Riemens, with script and direction by Ronald Weihs, design by Judith Sandiford. Performed by the Artword Theatre Ensemble: Paula Grove, Tanis MacarthurGordon Odegaard, Ryan Sero.
Music performed by J.P. Riemens & The Barflies (J.P. Riemens vocals/guitar, Carrie Ashworth string bass, Linda Duemo drums, Brian Griffith lead guitar)

*April 15-19, 23-26: Thurs, Fri & Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 2:00 pm. The Pearl Company, 16 Steven St, Hamilton.
This is an Artword Cultural Projects production supported by


*AND a remount in Delhi, Ontario (heart of tobacco country) on July 3 & 4, 2009 (poster above) at the Backstage Capitol Theatre, 93 King Street, Delhi, Fri & Sat, July 3 & 4, 2009, at 8:00 pm, Tickets:

Gordon Odegaard, Paula Grove, Ryan Sero, Tanis Macarthur, in rehearsal, w. JP Riemens on guitar.

Artword’s new show Tobacco Troubadour, tells the story of a musician in the making, as he grows up in tobacco country. The story weaves in and around a number of songs composed by JP Riemens.
The story is a rich and colourful history of strong-willed individuals with a great capacity for survival – survival with style, pride and a great sense of fun. They worked hard and played hard. The parties on a Saturday night are legendary.


Tanis Macarthur and Ryan Sero in rehearsal

Roosevelt’s Dance Hall by J.P. Riemens (copyright)

Along tobacco road, back in 63
There was my mom, my dad, my sister and me,
Mama worked the table and daddy worked the land
Sharecropper’s wife and a hard-working man.

Well, my dad played in the local band,
Drums and bass and accordion,
A little bit of fiddle and a guitar too,
And a good-lookin’ singer in a cowboy suit.

It’s oh my, wouldn’t it be nice,
To take a little trip through the pages of time.
Put the cooler in the oldsmobile, come on let’s ride,
It’s a Roosevelt’s Dance Hall Saturday night.

The Tobacco Belt is the area southwest of Brantford, to the north shore of Lake Erie, centered on Norfolk County. Delhi and Tilsonburg are in the heartland of tobacco country. In the 50s and 60s, the cash crop of choice was tobacco. It grew well in the sandy soil here. And the demand for it was high – back then..

J.P. Riemens, photo by Kyle Weir

JP Riemens grew up in tobacco country. He was working on a tobacco as a boat-driver when he was 12. He went on in his late teens to become one of the most sought-after kil’ hangers in the area. When the season was on, there was plenty of work. There were the jobs for the kids, jobs for the ladies, the jobs for the daredevils, and the all-night jobs with lots of waiting and beer drinking. There were the factions – the Francophones from Northern Ontario, native people from the nearby Grand River communities, and European immigrants from Belgium, Poland or the Ukraine.

And there was always the music. On a Saturday night, everyone, including the kids whose folks played in the bands, went to the local dance hall. People packed their own coolers in their trucks, left out in the parking lot. There was the Roosevelt Dance Hall in Langton, The Summer Gardens in Port Dover, The Hillcrest Hall in Simcoe, The Highlands in Long Point, The Silver Hill, The Stork Club.

Both JP’s stepfather and his Francophone godfather, Paul Vincent, were musicians. Paul Vincent was leader singer and played lead guitar in a band called The Continentals. His stepfather was an accordion player. The music – it was what JP calls “outlaw music” – was Texas western swing, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, and anything that got them out on the dance floor for the two-step.

JP bought his first guitar, for $15, with some of his early tobacco earnings. He mostly taught himself to play. Since he didn’t have access to many songbooks, he figured he had to make up his own songs, and so he did.

Tobacco Troubadour is a passionate story about hard work and great music, and the willful and wonderful people who did both. As the plot emerges and develops, we see the human cost of the economic decline of the region.

The crop that drove the economy in this area for over 60 years has fallen out of favour, for good reason. The communities that thrived in the tobacco hey-day now struggle to reinvent themselves. But what the farmers are going to do now – that is another story.

For more about J.P. Riemens and his music, visit  and

Background: Artword Theatre’s season 2008-2009

The fourth show in Artword’s 2008-2009 season in Hamilton is Tobacco Troubadour, a new play based on the songs and stories of J.P. Riemens (of J.P.Riemens and The Barflies), about growing up in Ontario’s tobacco country and its lively dance hall scene. The other shows: Sunamabeach a new show by Charly Chiarelli, an irreverent look at Hamilton, March 25 to April 5, 2009.  Rascals and Numskulls (Feb 12 to 22, 2009), a now original work written and directed by Ronald Weihs, tells the thrilling adventures of Robert Land spy for the British in the American Revolution, friend of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, United Empire Loyalist, first white settler in Hamilton, performed by the Artword Theatre Ensemble, with music by Gary Santucci. You Are What You Do, an original musical by Ronald Weihs celebrating the lives of working people, launched the season in October 2008 to rave reviews and remounted in December.

Background: Artword Theatre and The Pearl Company

Artword Theatre, the creative team of director Ronald Weihs and designer Judith Sandiford, has been producing original theatre since 1993. Until 2006, Weihs and Sandiford operated a facility (Artword Theatre and Artword Gallery) in downtown Toronto, when their theatre was closed to make way for a condo. After 12 years in downtown Toronto, Artword has pulled up stakes and moved to Hamilton in 2007. In 2008 they teamed up with Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne at The Pearl Company.

The Pearl Company is an arts and performance facility owned by guitarist and composer Gary Santucci and arts activist Barbara Milne, located at 16 Steven Street in the heart of the Landsdale neighbourhood of downtown Hamilton. Renovated in 2006, the facility has devoted two of its three floors to the arts. The Pearl Company has launched a number of arts initiatives, including the well-known Art Bus two Fridays a month, the Opus Mundi Festival, theatre workshops and productions, concerts and events and outdoor festivals. For more information about The Pearl Company, visit