By Sue Tiffin
The seventh annual Highlands Christmas Shindig is gearing up to warm the homes of residents throughout the county, both in supporting Fuel for Warmth’s efforts to alleviate heating challenges during the winter season, and in connecting community both near and far with an entertaining show that promises to kickstart the season of spirited giving.
“At the end of November, we’re into the shorter days, the weather starts to turn cold, Christmas is still a fair distance away, and I think for people it’s that bright evening where they get to see some great local talent, they get to have a little fun along the way, they walk out feeling it was time well-spent, and they get to support a really important cause,” said Mike Jaycock, who founded the annual Christmas pantomime alongside his dear friend Lorraine McNeil, leads a committee that organizes the show, writes the script and MCs the evening. “I think the Shindig has really developed into something that on the calendar makes a lot of sense and as an entity, provides people with exactly what they’re looking for at that time of year. I think that’s just marvellous.”
The annual variety show will go on this year despite the pandemic, though instead of bringing the community together at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion for an event that has historically been sold-out, viewers will be able to tune in to what promises to be a delightful show from the comfort of their own homes.
Jaycock said planning a digital show broadcasting live from three locations triples the level of attention for the planning and production team, but that he is grateful for the committee helping to pull it all together to continue the event’s legacy of success and is excited to see what the night will bring.
“When we were meeting early in the season, at our first meeting, everybody said, we have to do this because we know the need is going to be greater this year, because of COVID and the employment situation resulting from that, has put many more people under pressure, and we’re positive… that there’s going to be a much greater need this year,” said Jaycock. “To a person, they all said, let’s go for it, let’s do it.”
The Highlands Christmas Shindig will be broadcast live from www.shindigtv.ca, with the website being made available in advance so those planning on watching can test their home set-up and ensure everything is in working order ahead of the show. The Shindig will be available to viewers from any location, via internet.
“We can accommodate about 230 people in the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion, and as someone on the committee said, you know, [online] we could end up having a few thousand people watching this,” said Jaycock.
Year after year, Jaycock has famously brought to life Dame Beatrice on stage as host.
“I’m quite excited to see what she’ll be wearing as well,” he said, in response to what bedazzling look he might adorn his beloved alter ego with this year. “Melissa Stephens approached me and said she would be delighted to come up with an ensemble for Dame Beatrice and I thought, oh, well, the costume maker supreme. So I said to Melissa, just a week ago, Dame Beatrice has to think about her accoutrements, her necklace, her bracelet, her fancy glasses – what colour is she going to be wearing? And Melissa said, ‘there’ll be a lot of gold!’ That was it. So I think it will be a bit of a mystery up to the week before but I have no doubt that it will be appropriate.”
The first few shows, Jaycock co-hosted alongside Elf, played by McNeil, who passed in 2018, and later alongside his brother Peter’s Sir Cedric Bridlington and Penelope, portrayed by Victoria Bingham. The Jaycocks and Bingham are set to return for the show, with the trio broadcasting from Littlesex, England through the magic of a green screen at Canoe FM Radio Hall – surely getting up to their usual enjoyable shenanigans of roasting local politicians and well-known community members, commenting on current events and announcing a stellar set of local talent.
“There will be more pressure because we won’t have the audience reaction, but at the same time we have the opportunity to create a little team spirit and hopefully generate fun amongst ourselves and that will translate into good television,” said Jaycock.
He is proud of the talented acts that the 2020 show boasts, most who he said responded very quickly with an interest in being part of the Shindig. This year, Kate Campbell and Nick Russell, Bill Candy, and Chad Ingram and Tim Tofflemire will perform from a new venue within the Dominion Hotel, while Stan Russell and Tom Regina, Carl Dixon and Richard Margison take to the stage at Haliburton Highlands Museum for the 90-minute show. Appearances will also be made by Canadian celebrities including Rick Mercer, Kurt Browning, Ron James and Steve Smith, with messages in support of the Shindig’s efforts. Broadcasting online from three different locations requires three separate production teams of community volunteers, including Jack Brezina, Betty and David Mills, Sean Pennylegion, Heather Smith, Barb Murphy and Mike Jaycock, and a tech team of Tammy Rea, Jim Love, Nick Russell and Mark Tomlinson – each location will be overseen by a small crew of a camera person, an audio controller and a producer.
“It’s a very cool group of people that are really coming together to make this happen,” said Rea, who said she has seen the song list and teased the choices are perfect.
The fundraiser has, in the previous six years, brought in more than $110,000 for Fuel for Warmth, a volunteer charitable agency which provides temporary emergency heat assistance to those around Haliburton County in need of help with their heating bills or obtaining fuel. This year, rather than purchasing tickets for the show at a set price, viewers will be able to donate what they can online, and the show is also sponsored by local businesses and individuals.
“I think we’re all aware that warmth and food have been a challenge for many people for many years, but this year it is pandemic-level,” said Rea. “It’s going to be a hard time, it really is. That’s why I’m so proud of the Shindig, because I really feel like, everyone’s putting so much effort into trying to make it so the community can hold hands, and kind of be together before we get into this, and to just share what we have for the winter.”
“If we achieve our objective – we give good entertainment and do well for Fuel for Warmth – then that’s a great pre-Christmas gift for all of us,” said Jaycock.
The Highlands Christmas Shindig takes place Saturday evening, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m.. For more information visit www.shindigtv.ca and www.fuelforwarmth.com/.