Saturday, May 30, 2009

Summer Theatre season is now underway!

With the passing of the Victoria Day weekend a couple of weeks back, one of the true signs of summer is upon us once again - the summer theatre season in Ontario. Many smaller and not-so-small communities offer summer theatre fare that is generally lighter in nature, perfect for the casually-dressed cottage and vacation crowd who want to get out for some light entertainment. Over the years, I have attended many of the summer theatres around the province, including Muskoka, Kawartha Summer Theatre, Lighthouse Festival Theatre and one of my all-time favourites, the Red Barn Theatre at Jackson's Point.

Many years ago when I lived in Toronto, I would make the hour or so trek from our home in Scarborough up to Jackson's Point for a production at the Red Barn, situated next to The Briars resort. It was always a very idyllic setting not far from the mayhem of Toronto. When I moved to St. Catharines, I still managed to get up there the first one or two summers, first driving to Toronto and then leaving from there for the theatre; returning to Toronto at the end of the evening for an overnight stay before coming home. The Sibbald family always had a close association with the Red Barn, and they knew a thing or two, having The Briars located right next door to the theatre to catch that crowd who might need exceptional accomodation. I have not been back to either location for about 20 years now, and now, the Red Barn is no more.

In April of this year, a fire destroyed the historic Red Barn theatre structure, but not the indomitable spirit of the people who work there. Artistic Director Jordan Merkur writes on their website, in truly pheonix-like fashion, the theatre will rise from the ashes and will be rebuilt. In the meantime, the 60th anniversary season will go on, with peformances at Georgina's Stephen Leacock Theatre in Keswick. The season gets underway June 18th with The Glass Menagerie and concludes August 30th with a gala jazz concert featuring Louise Pitre from Welland and John Alcom. I will be listing the entire season on my website, found a, on the calendar page. I wish them luck as they rebuild a venerable Canadian theatrical institution.

Elsewhere in Ontario, I visited lovely Port Dover a couple of weeks ago while on vacation and picked up the season brochure for the Lighthouse Festival Theatre. I have not been down there since they rebuilt their theatre, which took place a few seasons back. I toured the lobby and theatre area while I was there, and the transformation is simply breathtaking! It is both modern and traditional at the same time; and really a pleasure to visit. I have not been into the theatre space proper yet, but hopefully I can catch a performance this season. They have a couple of rather racy productions this season: it kicked off May 19th with Norm Foster's Skin Flick, which runs to June 6th. That's followed by Michele Riml's Sexy Laundry (that's the title of the play, by the way, I don't know this personally!), opening on June 9th. Again, I will be listing the season on my website on the calendar page.

I have just read about the new season at the Showboat Festival Theatre in Port Colborne, with a new artistic director at the helm. Thom Currie takes over from his mentor at Showboat, David Savoy. The new season gets underway June 18th with Memories of the Rat Pack, a musical revue, and includes another production of Sexy Laundry (!) as well as Born Lucky, another musical revue that closes out the season. Showboat Festival Theatre performances are at the lovely Roselawn theatre on Fielden Avenue. Again, I will be listing the season on my website.

All summer theatres have reason to be concerned this season with the economy not being as healthy as we'd like, but hopefully people will still feel the need to get out for summer entertainement as in the past, so we'll see how things go. Shaw and Stratford also have concerns, but early signs are promising that economics might not hit them too hard this year. Let's hope so; I think summer theatre in Ontario is a great seasonal tradition we'd all miss if it were allowed to whither away and die.

May 30th, 2009.

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