Author: Don Kearney-Bourque

SLT presents “The Wolves” as final production of season

The Haldimand Press

April 11, 2024


SIMCOE, ON – Simcoe Little Theatre is thrilled to announce the staging of Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, “The Wolves,” from May 2-12, 2024. This captivating production, under the direction of Jason Mayo, promises an unforgettable exploration of adolescence, teamwork, and the journey to self-discovery through the lens of a teenage girls’ soccer team.

Director Jason Mayo brings a unique perspective to the play, emphasizing its raw energy and the authentic voices of its characters. 

Jason Mayo, Director of The Wolves (Photo Credit: Don Kearney-Bourque, Lighthouse Festival)

“The Wolves is more than just a story about soccer; it’s a deep dive into the complexities of growing up, the battles fought on and off the field, and the unbreakable bonds of team spirit,” says Mayo. His aim is to highlight the dynamic interactions and the personal growth experienced by each character against the backdrop of competitive sports.

Performances take place at the Simcoe Little Theatre, located at 33 Talbot Street North, Simcoe. Showtimes are scheduled for 2 or 7:30 p.m., varying by date, allowing audience flexibility in experiencing this powerful narrative.

Mayo further adds, “We’ve worked diligently to ensure that every moment on stage is charged with authenticity and emotion. Our talented cast promises to bring the compelling stories of these young athletes to life.”

Tickets start at $24, available for purchase at simcoelittletheatre.org or by contacting the box office at 51G-583-0505. Don’t miss this extraordinary blend of heartfelt drama and spirited competition that will leave audiences both moved and inspired.

For more information visit 

simcoelittletheatre.org/the-wolves.

“The Producers” is 2024 Comedic Musical Community Show at LFT

March 19, 2024

Port Dover Maple Leaf

By Donna McMillan

Lighthouse Festival will be kicking off its 2024 theatre season opening with its hilarious community production of the Mel Brooks Musical The Producers.  Always a huge hit with audiences, this year’s community production has drawn 16 Norfolk/Haldimand actors to LFT three times a week since rehearsals started the beginning of January. The Producers, with its outrageous story line, zany characters and uproarious music, will be playing in Port Dover April 12 to 28.  Derek Ritschel is the Director.

Mel Brooks fans may remember The Producers as a movie that hit the silver screen in 1967 and then again in 2005. The Broadway Musical ran in New York from 2001 to 2007, with 2502 performances and winning 12 Tony Awards.

“I’ve been wanting to do it (The Producers) for five or six years,” Derek told the Maple Leaf last week. “This was the right time. We got the rights and it all came together.” He reflected on the success of an earlier Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein performed as a community play on LFT stage. “It was a big hit.”

The Producers sees a formerly successful Broadway Producer, now down on his luck,  scheming with an accountant on how to get rich by convincing investors to put their money in the worst show in the world called “Springtime for Hitler.”  It features a bad script and lack lustre performers. Rather than fail, it is wildly successful; all resulting in a recipe for lots of laughs and riotous songs from “The King of Broadway”, “Der Guten Tag Hop – Clop” and “When You Got It, Flaunt it” to “In Old Bavaria”, “Keep It Gay” and “Along Came Bialy.”

Nikki Wiltac is performing in her first community play with LFT. Last week, she told the Maple Leaf she is thrilled to be part of the Ensemble, playing a number of roles including a bad chorus girl, a pigeon, an old lady, a police officer and a Bavarian peasant to name a few. She has been interested in acting since elementary school, remembering her first performance to be in Ramona and Beezus. She has also done community theatre in Simcoe and Tillsonburg as well as being in a 10-minute play competition in Brantford. “I wanted to step up and do something more professional,” she said. “It’s been an incredible learning experience. I’m learning so much from everyone from the director, the leads, ensemble and costumes.”

Mac Buchwald has always done theatre from Old Town Hall kids in Waterford to Simcoe Little Theatre. He told the Maple Leaf he was thrilled to get his first role in a LFT Community Show, playing one of the leads, Leo Bloom. “I’m a big Gene Wilder fan,” he said, noting Gene played Leo in the 1967 film version. Leo is a neurotic accountant, obsessed with his blue security blanket, he shared. Buchwald, who is working as a new English teacher at WDHS, is enjoying seeing the LFT Professional Production team supporting the amateur actors.   

For Melissa Schoeman, performing in The Producers is her first play since university ten years ago, she shared.   A number of people suggested she should act and she loved the movie, The Producers, she said. She remembers her first role was in Surfing Santa at Oneida Central School.  She performed in elementary school and in high school at Cayuga Secondary.  She has a degree in English from Wilfrid Laurier University.   Melissa plays a montage of many people as part of the ensemble, she said, including old lady, auditioner, prisoner, cop, chorus girl and more. “Oh my Gosh. It has been an amazing experience,” she told the Maple Leaf. “A lot of work. There is a certain ‘vibe’ around theatre people.  This feels like home.”   

This writer attended an hour of rehearsal last week. Without a doubt, this will be another “must see” community play that will have the audience in stitches in their seat and “wondering how something so outrageously offensive could be so funny,” as mentioned in the playbill. There is a great cast of new and popular return actors we know from past community plays. It runs from April 12 to 28.

The full cast includes: J.P. Antonnaci (Max Bialystock), Mac Buchwald (Leo Bloom), Jada Dawson (Ulla), Carmen Davis (Fran Liebkind), Jason Mayo (Roger De Bris), Don Kearney–Bourque (Carmen Ghia); Ensemble: Naomi Auld, Jaden Banfield, Charly Buck, Lyndsey Dearlove, Justine Draus, Shelby Mulder, Melissa Schoeman, Lisa Shebib, Daniel Traina, & Nikki Wiltac. For tickets, contact Lighthouse Festival Theatre at their Main Street, Port Dover box office, call 519–583–2221 or visit the website www.lighthousetheatre.com.

For Immediate Release: Simcoe Little Theatre Presents “The Wolves” as the final production of the 2023/24 Season

Pulitzer Prize-nominated play written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Jason Mayo, featuring a cast of local, talented young women

Simcoe, ONApril 3, 2024 | Simcoe Little Theatre is thrilled to announce the staging of Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, “The Wolves,” from May 2nd to 12th, 2024. This captivating production, under the direction of Jason Mayo, promises an unforgettable exploration of adolescence, teamwork, and the journey to self-discovery through the lens of a teenage girls’ soccer team.

Director Jason Mayo brings a unique perspective to the play, emphasizing its raw energy and the authentic voices of its characters. “The Wolves is more than just a story about soccer; it’s a deep dive into the complexities of growing up, the battles fought on and off the field, and the unbreakable bonds of team spirit,” says Mayo. His aim is to highlight the dynamic interactions and the personal growth experienced by each character against the backdrop of competitive sports.

Performances take place at the Simcoe Little Theatre, located at 33 Talbot Street North, Simcoe, ON. Showtimes are scheduled for 2:00 PM or 7:30 PM, varying by date, allowing audience flexibility in experiencing this powerful narrative.

Mayo further adds, “We’ve worked diligently to ensure that every moment on stage is charged with authenticity and emotion. Our talented cast promises to bring the compelling stories of these young athletes to life.”

Tickets start at $24, available for purchase at www.simcoelittletheatre.org or by contacting the box office at 519-583-0505. Don’t miss this extraordinary blend of heartfelt drama and spirited competition that will leave audiences both moved and inspired.

For more information on “The Wolves”: 

The Cast

The Creative Team & Crew

About Simcoe Little Theatre

Simcoe Little Theatre is a non-profit community theater located in Simcoe, Ontario in beautiful Norfolk County. For over 60 years, Simcoe Little Theatre has been dedicated to providing quality theatrical productions and fostering a love for the performing arts in the local community. With a talented team of actors, directors, and volunteers, Simcoe Little Theatre continues to entertain and inspire audiences of all ages. For more information, visit www.simcoelittletheatre.org. Where Community Stars Shine!


Media Contact

For media inquiries, cast interviews and further information, please contact:

Don Kearney-Bourque,
Marketing & Communications Manager
Simcoe Little Theatre & Lighthouse Festival
don@lighthousetheatre.com
Direct: (226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410

For Immediate Release – New Interim Executive Director Appointment at Lighthouse Festival

April 2, 2024 – PORT DOVER, ON

We are pleased to announce that the Lighthouse Festival Theatre Corporation’s Board of Directors has appointed Caitlin O’Neill, our current Operations Coordinator, as Interim Executive Director, effective Monday, April 8th, 2024. This appointment comes as our current Executive Director, Nicole Campbell, embarks on her maternity leave beginning Friday, April 5th, 2024. The Board, alongside the entire staff of Lighthouse Festival, is thrilled to welcome Caitlin into her new role. Caitlin brings a wealth of experience and passion for the arts that is sure to lead our organization through this transitional period with grace and innovation.

Nicole Campbell (Left) & Caitlin O’Neill

We also extend our warmest wishes to Nicole during her maternity leave. We celebrate this joyous occasion with her and look forward to the new addition to her family. Nicole’s leadership and vision have been instrumental in the growth and success of Lighthouse Festival in Port Dover and Port Colborne.

Please join us in congratulating Caitlin on her new role and in wishing Nicole Campbell a safe and happy maternity leave. We are confident that the Lighthouse Festival Theatre will continue to thrive under Caitlin’s interim directorship and look forward to an exciting future ahead.

For all enquiries regarding this transition, please contact Caitlin O’Neill, Interim Executive Director, at caitlin@lighthousetheatre.com or call 226-290-0068.

For Immediate Release: Lighthouse Festival Celebrates World Theatre Day 2024

A Call to Support Live Theatre in Our Community

PORT DOVER, March 27, 2024 – In honour of World Theatre Day, Lighthouse Festival is reiterating our unwavering commitment to the arts and welcomes our vibrant communities to support live theatre’s vital role in fostering creativity, bolstering the local economy, and enriching our cultural landscape.

World Theatre Day, celebrated globally on March 27th, serves as a reminder of the transformative power of the theatre: to entertain, educate, and inspire. Live theatre acts as a mirror to society, offering a unique outlet for creative talent and thought-provoking storytelling that challenges perceptions and ignites imaginations.

At Lighthouse Festival, we are proud of our legacy in bringing high-quality, accessible, and enriching live performances to our audiences. Our stage has been a home for emerging and established talents, showcasing the diverse voices and stories that resonate with our community, plus providing some of the best laughter around!

The impact of live theatre extends beyond the stage; it plays a significant role in stimulating our local economy — from employment opportunities for artists and support staff to generating revenue for nearby businesses, including restaurants, hotels, and retailers. Theatre also strengthens our community’s social fabric, fostering a sense of belonging and shared experience that is crucial in today’s fast-paced, divisive world.

However, many in the theatre community are facing unprecedented challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic. The arts sector, among the hardest hit, is in a critical phase of rebuilding. Attendance numbers have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. Now, more than ever, the theatre community needs your support to sustain this vital cultural institution.

Lighthouse Festival, with professional theatres in Port Dover (Norfolk County) & Port Colborne (Niagara Region), and a community theatre, Simcoe Little Theatre, in Simcoe (Norfolk County), remains steadfast in our mission to bring laughter, entertainment, and thought-provoking art to our audiences. As we navigate these unprecedented times, we invite you to reconnect with the joy and communal spirit of live theatre. Whether you’re a long-time theatre lover or a curious newcomer, there’s something magical waiting for you in the theatre — shared laughter, a collective gasp, or the thunderous applause that follows a stirring performance.

In celebration of World Theatre Day, we encourage everyone to experience the magic of live theatre once again. Come and see a show at Lighthouse Festival. Let us together laugh, reflect, and be moved by the incredible talent within our community and beyond. Your presence not only supports the arts but also contributes to the revitalization of our collective cultural identity and economic resilience.

Join us in this crucial time to support and uplift the theatre community. Together, we can ensure that live theatre remains a vibrant and essential part of our community’s cultural landscape for generations to come.

For information on our upcoming shows and how you can support Lighthouse Festival, please visit our website at www.lighthousetheatre.com.

Let’s celebrate World Theatre Day by supporting live theatre. We’ve got a seat waiting for you!

#WorldTheatreDay #GoSeeAShow #RallyForTheatre


About Lighthouse Festival
Lighthouse Festival is a charitable organization devoted to the development and production of   new and existing Canadian plays. Lighthouse Festival strives to be artistically excellent, support and encourage local and regional artists, and be a source of enjoyment and pride in local communities while promoting local tourism. Operating in two towns on Lake Erie, our theatres operate on a central policy of hospitality, accessibility, and affordability for all.


Media Contact
For media inquiries, please contact:
Don Kearney-Bourque
Marketing & Communications Manager
Lighthouse Festival Theatre Corporation
don@lighthousetheatre.com
Direct:(226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410

**END**

Women take SLT stage for comedy The Savannah Sipping Society

Women bring to life a charming and relatable play that’s Simcoe Little Theatre’s second production of the season.  

February 21, 2024

Simcoe Reformer

By Postmedia Staff

The Savannah Sipping Society, a comedy written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, and directed by Sarah Finch, opens on March 7. 

The cast includes Roselle Slaght as Randa Covington, a perfectionist and workaholic who is struggling to cope with a surprise career derailment; Anna Reu as Dot Hangler, who is reeling from her husband’s recent demise and the loss of their plans for an idyllic retirement; Nancy Gibb as the earthy and boisterous Marlafaye Mosley, a good ol’ Texas gal who has blasted into Savannah in the wake of losing her tom-cattin’ husband to a 23-year-old dental hygienist; and Melinda Campbell as Jinx Jenkins, a spunky ball of fire who offers her services as a much-needed life coach for these women. 

Actors Melinda Campbell (left), Anna Reu, Nancy Gibbs and Roselle Slaght are featured in The Savannah Sipping Society, Simcoe Little Theatre’s second production of the 2023-24 season. The comedy runs from March 7 to 17. Contributed.

Together, these middle-aged women successfully bond and find the confidence to jumpstart their new lives. 

Gibbs said being part of the production has been an “absolute joy.” 

“The camaraderie among the cast and crew is palpable and I believe the audiences will be drawn to the heartwarming story and unforgettable characters.” 

Stage manager Susan LaBone said “even from early rehearsals, the energy and enthusiasm surrounding The Savannah Sipping Society has been incredible.” 

Tickets for the production start at $24 and can be purchased online at simcoelittletheatre.org or by calling 519-583-0505. The play runs from March 7 to 17 at Simcoe Little Theatre, 33 Talbot St. North in Simcoe.  

Simcoe Little Theatre is a non-profit community theatre dedicated to providing quality theatrical productions and fostering a love for the performing arts for more than 60 years. 

Lighthouse Theatre to showcase musician’s printmaking

Broadsides and Penny Dreadfuls is a printmaking show of artist and musician Ian Bell’s works.

February 14, 2024

Simcoe Reformer

By Brian Thompson

Local folk musician and songwriter Ian Bell is about to showcase another side of his artistic talents.

Broadside Ballads and Penny Dreadfuls is a printmaking show with a musical theme incorporating songs Bell has written.

The artist employed antique wooden and metal type, wood engravings and linocuts, and a 118-year-old printing press to create artworks inspired by the broadsides and street literature of the early 1800s.

“These prints are in the style of the song sheets that were hawked on the streets by ballad sellers in the 19th century, crated with hand-set type and illustrated with (my) wood engravings and linocuts,” said Bell. “Some were printed on (my) 1906 Pearl printing press; others were done on a 70-year-old Nolan proof press.”

Additionally, some songs are presented in tiny, hand-stitched chapbooks known as Penny Dreadfuls.

Bell notes that most of the equipment and type was rescued from newspaper offices that changed printing technology in the 1970s, along with items found at yard sales and flea markets.

A selection of printing artifacts will be included in the exhibit of artworks.

Broadsides and Penny Dreadfuls opens with a reception at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Lighthouse Festival Theatre, 247 Main Street in Port Dover.

The show will run throughout 2024 at the theatre.

BROADSIDE BALLADS & PENNY DREADFULS – Lighthouse Festival presents Ian Bell’s Printmaking Show & Opening Reception

Ian Bell’s Printmaking Show Opens at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre on February 18th

Port Dover, ON – February 10, 2024 – Using a 1906 printing press and a collection of antique wooden and metal type, local artist Ian Bell combines old technology with his own wood engravings and linocuts to create new artworks inspired by the broadsides and street literature of the early 1800s. These are now on exhibit at the Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover.

The show takes music as its main theme, and features illustrated “broadsides” of songs written by Ian. (Who is also well known as a folk musician and songwriter) These works are in the style of the song sheets that were hawked on the streets by ballad sellers in the 19th century – with hand-set lead type, and are illustrated with Ian’s wood engravings. Some were printed on Ian’s 1906 “Pearl” printing press; others were done on a 70 year-old Nolan proof press.

In addition to the broadsides, some songs are presented in tiny hand-stitched chapbooks (“Penny Dreadfuls”) – also printed with handset type and woodcut illustrations. The show also includes other musically themed linocuts and wood engravings.

Art Gives New Life to Old Technology

Much of the type and equipment used in the printing of Broadside Ballads & Penny Dreadfuls has come from the dark corners of local weekly newspaper offices who moved on from letterpress technology in the 1970s. The 1906 Pearl press and drawers of 19th century wooden type were rescued from the Cayuga printshop of the Haldimand Advocate (now the Haldimand Press) just days before the building was demolished in 2022. Other type, borders, and useful pieces of printing equipment were generously supplied by the Port Dover Maple Leaf. Still more has come from yard sales, barns, and flea markets across southwestern Ontario. A few examples will be on display along with the art.

The Printmaking Show opens with a reception on February 18th from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM at Lighthouse Festival Theatre, located at 247 Main Street in Port Dover. It will remain at the theatre throughout the 2024 season.

For more information on Ian Bell’s artwork, please visit his website at www.ianbellart.com.

Media Contact

For media inquiries, cast interviews and further information, please contact:

Don Kearney-Bourque,
Marketing & Communications Manager
Simcoe Little Theatre & Lighthouse Festival
don@lighthousetheatre.com
Direct: (226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410

For Immediate Release: Simcoe Little Theatre Presents “The Savannah Sipping Society” as the second production of their 2023/24 Season

TSSS

A local cast of 4 talented women bring this charming and relatable play to life

Port Dover, ON – February 9, 2024 – Simcoe Little Theatre is thrilled to announce its second show of the 2023/24 season, The Savannah Sipping Society, written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten. Directed by Sarah Finch, this delightful comedy promises laughter, friendship, and heartwarming moments for audiences of all ages.

The Savannah Sipping Society follows the journey of four Southern women who, despite their differences, form an unexpected bond and embark on a life-changing adventure filled with laughter, misadventures, and plenty of sweet tea. Set against the backdrop of the charming city of Savannah, Georgia, this production is sure to captivate theatregoers with its wit, charm, and relatable characters.

Director Sarah Finch expresses her excitement for the upcoming production, stating, “I am thrilled to bring The Savannah Sipping Society to life on the Simcoe Little Theatre stage. This play is a celebration of friendship, resilience, and the joy of embracing new adventures. Audiences are in for a treat!”

The show features a talented, local cast, including Melinda Campbell, Nancy Gibbs, Anna Reu, and Roselle Slaght, who bring their unique personalities to each character, creating a dynamic and engaging performance.

Nancy Gibbs, who portrays one of the lead characters, shares her thoughts on the production, saying, “Being a part of The Savannah Sipping Society has been an absolute joy. The camaraderie among the cast and crew is palpable, and I believe audiences will be drawn to the heartwarming story and unforgettable characters.”

Stage Manager Susan LaBone reflects on her experience working behind the scenes, stating, “As the stage manager for this production, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the dedication and talent of everyone involved. Even from early rehearsals, the energy and enthusiasm surrounding The Savannah Sipping Society have been incredible.”

Tickets for The Savannah Sipping Society start at $24 each and can be purchased online at simcoelittletheatre.org or by calling 519-583-0505. The play runs from March 7th to 17th at Simcoe Little Theatre, located at 33 Talbot Street North in Simcoe, ON.

Don’t miss your chance to experience this heartwarming comedy that celebrates the power of friendship and the beauty of embracing new beginnings. Get your tickets today and join us for an unforgettable theatrical experience!


About Simcoe Little Theatre

Simcoe Little Theatre is a non-profit community theater located in Simcoe, Ontario in beautiful Norfolk County. For over 60 years, Simcoe Little Theatre has been dedicated to providing quality theatrical productions and fostering a love for the performing arts in the local community. With a talented team of actors, directors, and volunteers, Simcoe Little Theatre continues to entertain and inspire audiences of all ages. For more information, visit www.simcoelittletheatre.org. Where Community Stars Shine!

Media Contact

For media inquiries, cast interviews and further information, please contact:

Don Kearney-Bourque,
Marketing & Communications Manager
Simcoe Little Theatre & Lighthouse Festival
don@lighthousetheatre.com
Direct: (226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410

Two years after reopening from the pandemic, is Toronto’s theatre sector on the brink of a crisis?

Unless there’s a turnaround, arts leaders say the city’s once-thriving sector could become a shell of its former self. 


By Joshua Chong (via The Toronto Star)


Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, arts leaders across Toronto and southern Ontario knew they were staring down a tough road ahead. Their industry’s recovery wasn’t going to come overnight, nor in the mere weeks and months ahead. 

But more than two years after theatres reopened, the sector is still teetering on the brink of a crisis, and could be facing its most challenging year yet amid audience attrition, declining private support and insufficient public funding. Companies are mounting productions with smaller budgets; some are cutting programming; others that halted operations in March 2020 never returned. 

Unless there’s a turnaround in the sector, arts leaders who spoke with the Star say the once-thriving sector in Toronto — one of the largest theatre centres in the world — could become a shell of its former self. 

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, arts leaders across Toronto and southern Ontario knew they were staring down a tough road ahead. Their industry’s recovery wasn’t going to come overnight, nor in the mere weeks and months ahead. 

But more than two years after theatres reopened, the sector is still teetering on the brink of a crisis, and could be facing its most challenging year yet amid audience attrition, declining private support and insufficient public funding. Companies are mounting productions with smaller budgets; some are cutting programming; others that halted operations in March 2020 never returned. 

Unless there’s a turnaround in the sector, arts leaders who spoke with the Star say the once-thriving sector in Toronto — one of the largest theatre centres in the world — could become a shell of its former self. 

“There’s just no question that our sector is facing a tough time right now,” said Jacoba Knaapen, executive director of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA), which advocates on behalf of more than 100 theatre, dance and opera companies in the city. “Everybody is seeing increased costs along with reduced or frozen revenue.” 

Gideon Arthurs, executive director of the Soulpepper Theatre Company.  (Photo credit: Alex Lupul)

Soulpepper, one of Toronto’s largest not-for-profit theatre companies, quietly removed two shows from its winter and spring lineup late last year.

The first, “Ladies of the Canyon,” was to be a concert production following Canadian singer Joni Mitchell and her life in Laurel Canyon, the neighbourhood in Los Angeles that was the epicentre of Hollywood’s counterculture movement. The second production was a reimagined adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play “A Doll’s House,” transporting the action to India under British rule. 

Both productions were removed in part due to financial “risk management,” said Gideon Arthurs, Soulpepper’s executive director. He noted the shows are simply postponed and Soulpepper hopes to mount them “within the next 12 months,” though exact dates have yet to be announced. 

Arthurs described the company’s past two years as “enormously challenging,” with rising production costs continuing to strain the company. He pointed to the price of softwood lumber, a staple in the theatre often used for sets. For much of 2021, lumber prices soared by more than 100 per cent year-over-year due to supply challenges caused by mill closures and wildfires. 

The venerable Factory Theatre, meanwhile, also announced the indefinite postponement of “In the Kitchen” due to “financial pressures,” according to an email sent to donors earlier this month and obtained by the Star. The play, originally slated to run for three weeks in March, was to be a world premiere production featuring four playwrights “who join forces to tackle the classic ‘kitchen sink drama’ trope.” 

The company said the decision “ensures financial and organizational stability,” and that “the current financial pressures will not impact the many other activities planned for our 2023-24 season.” With the removal of “In the Kitchen” from its lineup, Factory Theatre does not have another mainstage production scheduled for the rest of its 2023-24 season.

A spokesperson for Factory Theatre said the company could not comment on the programming change. 

In its latest publicly available financial statement filed with the Canada Revenue Agency, Factory Theatre reported a deficit greater than $70,000 in 2022. The same year, Soulpepper was nearly $1 million in the red.

Those financial challenges are also being felt by other companies in the sector. Last fall, TAPA reported that between 2022 and 2023, 44 per cent of city-funded arts and culture organizations in Toronto — including nontheatre arts companies — posted a deficit. In total, the losses amounted to roughly $13.6 million. 

But these impacts haven’t been felt equally. While some companies struggle to bring audiences back into the theatre, others have seen sellout crowds and steady growth since the pandemic reopening.

Crow’s Theatre in Toronto’s east end has mounted a string of hits, including “The Master Plan” in the fall and, most recently, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” a musical adaptation of a section of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” that is now in its eighth week of an 11-week run after multiple extensions.

Canada’s largest repertory theatre company, the Stratford Festival, said that 2023 was a “very successful” season, though it’s not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. “We are heading into 2024 with optimism,” said executive director Anita Gaffney. The festival did not provide exact attendance figures, but said they will be available later in the spring. 

Meanwhile, Canada’s largest theatre producer, Mirvish, said its sales patterns are on par with pre-pandemic levels, noting audiences had fully returned by fall of 2022. John Karastamatis, a spokesperson for the company, described 2023 as an “excellent year” for the company, which he says boasted 45,000 subscribers to packages of shows between its main and off-Mirvish seasons.  

That the programming cuts and postponements appear to disproportionately affect new works and emerging artists is especially concerning, said independent theatre producer Derrick Chua.

“The pipeline for new emerging works is just being shrunk,” he said. “I worry about this growing backlog or just fewer number of opportunities that exist for all the artists.”

Last year, the Toronto Fringe Festival, long considered an important incubator for new works having launched shows like “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Kim’s Convenience,” warned it was in jeopardy due to lack of sufficient revenue

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, arts leaders across Toronto and southern Ontario knew they were staring down a tough road ahead. Their industry’s recovery wasn’t going to come overnight, nor in the mere weeks and months ahead. 

But more than two years after theatres reopened, the sector is still teetering on the brink of a crisis, and could be facing its most challenging year yet amid audience attrition, declining private support and insufficient public funding. Companies are mounting productions with smaller budgets; some are cutting programming; others that halted operations in March 2020 never returned. 

Unless there’s a turnaround in the sector, arts leaders who spoke with the Star say the once-thriving sector in Toronto — one of the largest theatre centres in the world — could become a shell of its former self. 

“There’s just no question that our sector is facing a tough time right now,” said Jacoba Knaapen, executive director of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA), which advocates on behalf of more than 100 theatre, dance and opera companies in the city. “Everybody is seeing increased costs along with reduced or frozen revenue.” 

Soulpepper, one of Toronto’s largest not-for-profit theatre companies, quietly removed two shows from its winter and spring lineup late last year.

The first, “Ladies of the Canyon,” was to be a concert production following Canadian singer Joni Mitchell and her life in Laurel Canyon, the neighbourhood in Los Angeles that was the epicentre of Hollywood’s counterculture movement. The second production was a reimagined adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play “A Doll’s House,” transporting the action to India under British rule. 

Both productions were removed in part due to financial “risk management,” said Gideon Arthurs, Soulpepper’s executive director. He noted the shows are simply postponed and Soulpepper hopes to mount them “within the next 12 months,” though exact dates have yet to be announced. 

Arthurs described the company’s past two years as “enormously challenging,” with rising production costs continuing to strain the company. He pointed to the price of softwood lumber, a staple in the theatre often used for sets. For much of 2021, lumber prices soared by more than 100 per cent year-over-year due to supply challenges caused by mill closures and wildfires. 

The venerable Factory Theatre, meanwhile, also announced the indefinite postponement of “In the Kitchen” due to “financial pressures,” according to an email sent to donors earlier this month and obtained by the Star. The play, originally slated to run for three weeks in March, was to be a world premiere production featuring four playwrights “who join forces to tackle the classic ‘kitchen sink drama’ trope.” 

The company said the decision “ensures financial and organizational stability,” and that “the current financial pressures will not impact the many other activities planned for our 2023-24 season.” With the removal of “In the Kitchen” from its lineup, Factory Theatre does not have another mainstage production scheduled for the rest of its 2023-24 season.

A spokesperson for Factory Theatre said the company could not comment on the programming change. 

In its latest publicly available financial statement filed with the Canada Revenue Agency, Factory Theatre reported a deficit greater than $70,000 in 2022. The same year, Soulpepper was nearly $1 million in the red.

Those financial challenges are also being felt by other companies in the sector. Last fall, TAPA reported that between 2022 and 2023, 44 per cent of city-funded arts and culture organizations in Toronto — including nontheatre arts companies — posted a deficit. In total, the losses amounted to roughly $13.6 million. 

But these impacts haven’t been felt equally. While some companies struggle to bring audiences back into the theatre, others have seen sellout crowds and steady growth since the pandemic reopening.

Crow’s Theatre in Toronto’s east end has mounted a string of hits, including “The Master Plan” in the fall and, most recently, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” a musical adaptation of a section of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” that is now in its eighth week of an 11-week run after multiple extensions.

Canada’s largest repertory theatre company, the Stratford Festival, said that 2023 was a “very successful” season, though it’s not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. “We are heading into 2024 with optimism,” said executive director Anita Gaffney. The festival did not provide exact attendance figures, but said they will be available later in the spring. 

Meanwhile, Canada’s largest theatre producer, Mirvish, said its sales patterns are on par with pre-pandemic levels, noting audiences had fully returned by fall of 2022. John Karastamatis, a spokesperson for the company, described 2023 as an “excellent year” for the company, which he says boasted 45,000 subscribers to packages of shows between its main and off-Mirvish seasons.  

That the programming cuts and postponements appear to disproportionately affect new works and emerging artists is especially concerning, said independent theatre producer Derrick Chua.

“The pipeline for new emerging works is just being shrunk,” he said. “I worry about this growing backlog or just fewer number of opportunities that exist for all the artists.”

Last year, the Toronto Fringe Festival, long considered an important incubator for new works having launched shows like “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Kim’s Convenience,” warned it was in jeopardy due to lack of sufficient revenue

The Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts reported that between 2022 and 2023, 44 per cent of city-funded arts and culture organizations in Toronto posted a deficit. In total, the losses amounted to roughly $13.6 million.  (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The financial challenges Canadian theatre organizations are facing aren’t unique, but mirror similar issues unfolding in the American theatre community, which some have characterized as in a state of “crisis.”

There, theatres of all sizes have felt the wave of programming cancellations, staff cuts and venue closures over the past four years. In all, at least 35 major theatre companies in the U.S. shuttered since the onset of the pandemic, while a bevy of others have indefinitely paused operations. 

Arthurs, who’s also chair of the advocacy committee at TAPA, said Canadian industry leaders are watching the American theatre sector closely. He warns the trends south of the border and concerning, and could play out in theatre centres across Canada. 

“There’s an active conversation happening in the sector about when we declare a state of emergency,” he said. 

The theatre sector has faced other periods of instability in recent history — from the Sept. 11 attacks to the 2008 financial crisis. But arts leaders say the COVID-19 pandemic differs from other “black swan” events: its prolonged period of social isolation immeasurably altered audience behaviour and hampered their return to the theatre. 

“People are getting over that in the same way they did after the major pandemics of earlier eras, but it takes a long time,” said Tim Jennings, executive director of the Shaw Festival. “We need to exercise social muscles that, frankly, have atrophied.”

Tim Jennings, executive director of the Shaw Festival, outside The Royal George Theatre. (Photo Credit: TorStar Photo)

Though many arts leaders who spoke to the Star said the future is uncertain for their companies, those in Toronto said they’re hoping additional municipal funding could give arts organizations the boost they need. 

“Unless our partners in government and in the private sector come to the table with us, we could be talking about a very, very difficult next 12 to 24 months,” said Arthurs. “Undoubtedly, that will include theatre closures, a major brain drain out of the sector, and some really precarious situations.”

The Toronto Arts Council, which supports roughly 900 artists and arts organizations through grants, is seeking a $2 million annual injection in funding for the next five years. The municipal funding body currently operates with a nearly $25 million budget, which it says does not meet current needs and is stretched thin by inflation. 

But the arts sector’s campaign for increased financial support from the city is likely to face heavy scrutiny as Toronto stares down a $1.8 billion budget shortfall and a proposed double-digit property tax hike. In public consultations for the 2024 budget, more Torontonians favour slashing funding to arts, culture, entertainment and attractions than increasing investments

Ultimately, Soulpepper’s Arthurs believes the theatre sector’s troubles are the same problems affecting other civic institutions. Though few have found a solution, he believes organizations need to place additional emphasis on communicating their values to the community, and focus less on solely getting patrons into their spaces. 

Theatres, Arthurs argues, should double down on their role in providing real human connections. If companies focus on that, he said, a byproduct will be financial success. 

“That’s our pathway to sustainability.”

Joshua Chong is a Toronto-based arts critic and reporter for the Star. Follow him on X: @joshualdwchong.

For Immediate Release: Lighthouse Festival Presents The Producers – A Hilariously Offensive Musical Comedy

Local cast brings to life this Tony Award-winning musical on the Lighthouse stage

PORT DOVER, January 29, 2024 – Lighthouse Festival is proud to announce its highly anticipated 2024 Community Show, The Producers, a satirically offensive musical comedy featuring a talented cast of local actors. Directed by Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel, this uproarious production promises to delight audiences with its irreverent humor and unforgettable performances.

The Producers takes center stage at the Lighthouse Festival Theater in Port Dover from April 12 to 28, 2024. Tickets for this must-see event are priced at $29 each with no hidden fees and are available for purchase at lighthousetheatre.com or by calling the box office at 888-779-7703.

Set in New York City, The Producers follows the misadventures of down-on-his-luck Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his neurotic accountant, Leo Bloom, as they scheme to produce the biggest flop in theatrical history. What ensues is a hilarious rollercoaster of mishaps, musical numbers, and larger-than-life characters that will leave audiences in stitches.

Director Derek Ritschel expressed his excitement about bringing this iconic musical to life on the Lighthouse Festival stage, stating, “The Producers is a comedic masterpiece that pushes the boundaries of satire. Our production will capture the essence of Mel Brooks’ vision while adding our own unique flair to the mix. Audiences can expect a production full of non-stop laughter, music and entertainment.”

Community Show veteran and crowd favourite Jason Mayo, who portrays the flamboyant director Roger De Bris, shared his enthusiasm for the show, saying, “Playing Roger De Bris has been an absolute blast. This character is larger than life, and I’m thrilled to bring his over-the-top antics to the stage. Get ready for a wild ride!”

Mac Buchwald, who takes on the role of Leo Bloom, Max Bialystock’s anxious sidekick, commented, “Being a part of The Producers has been an incredible journey. This musical has everything – humor, heart, and some truly unforgettable moments. I can’t wait for audiences to experience it.”

Jada Dawson, who embodies the role of Ulla, the Swedish bombshell with dreams of stardom, shared her excitement, saying, “Ulla is such a fun character to play. She’s sassy

yet silly, she’s bold, yet fun, and she knows what she wants. I’m thrilled to bring her energy to the stage and be a part of this fantastic production.”

Finally, Shelby Mulder, in her Lighthouse Community Show debut where, she plays multiple roles in the ensemble, expressed her admiration for the show’s versatility, stating, “The Producers is a whirlwind of creativity and humor. I love the opportunity to play different characters and showcase my range as an actor. This is a show unlike any other, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Don’t miss your chance to experience the hilarity and heart of The Producers at Lighthouse Festival Theatre. Book your tickets now for an evening of laughter, music, and unforgettable moments.

For ticket information and showtimes, visit www.lighthousetheatre.com or call (888) 779-7703.

Cast

J.P. AntonacciNaomi AuldJaden Banfield
Mac BuchwaldCharly BuckCarmen Davis
Jada DawsonLyndsey DearloveJustine Draus
Don Kearney-BourqueJason MayoShelby Mulder
Melissa SchoemanLisa ShebibDaniel Traina
Nikki Wiltac  
Director: Derek Ritschel | Technical Director: Hailey Parker | Musical Directors: Tony & Michelle Proracki | Choreographer: Kiri-Lyn Muir
Stage Manager: Heather Reichheld | Costumes & Props: Sally Bellamy & Jan Rainey

About Lighthouse Festival

Lighthouse Festival is a charitable organization devoted to the development and production of new and existing Canadian plays. Lighthouse Festival strives to be artistically excellent, support and encourage local and regional artists, and be a source of enjoyment and pride in local communities while promoting local tourism. Operating in two towns on Lake Erie, our theatres operate on a central policy of hospitality, accessibility, and affordability for all.

Media Contact

For media inquiries, cast interviews and further information, please contact:

Don Kearney-Bourque,
Marketing & Communications Manager
Lighthouse Festival Theatre Corporation
don@lighthousetheatre.com
Direct: (226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410

It’s been a fabulous year in theatre

Plenty of great things happened on stages in 2023

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Theatre has survived the crunch of COVID-19 and a lingering reluctance by some theatregoers to return to their seats.

No matter, professional theatre companies worked hard in 2023 to woo audiences with entertaining and sometimes riveting productions. Gradually, audiences returned in greater numbers. Let’s hope this trend continues.

After seeing more than 150 shows, here in no particular order are the 12 best professional performances I saw in 2023.

”The Amen Corner.” James Baldwin’s brilliant play about religion, racism and a sometimes disturbing connection between the two made for a stunning production at the Shaw Festival, directed by Kimberley Rampersad. I saw this show in New York when it was first produced on Broadway in 1964 and what Rampersad did with it illuminated the sadness, fear and the ultimate triumph of rising above ignorance. And the gospel music she interpolated into the text at Shaw was a clever addition.

“Much Ado About Nothing.” Hamilton-born playwright Erin Shields added an insightful prologue and some welcome contemporary thinking to this Chris Abraham’s Stratford Festival production. So fine were Shields’ additions to the text you’d never know they weren’t written by Shakespeare himself.

In New York and Toronto I hated the musical “Next to Normal.” It was aggressive, angry and turgid. Then Michael Longhurst directed it at London’s Donmar Warehouse with Hamilton-born theatre star Caissie Levy in the central role. Amazing what a canny director and an actress-singer of extraordinary talents can do to make a show shimmer with new life.

“Boy Falls from the Sky.” It was smart of Theatre Aquarius to bring this intimate show to Hamilton. Jake Epstein’s recollections of a sometimes troubled theatre career came alive under Robert McQueen’s insightful staging and dramaturgy.

Stephen Sondheim was the greatest theatre composer-lyricist of our time. Trenchant, rueful and oh so witty, he made you laugh and cry. The London tribute show to his genius, starring Lea Salonga, Bernadette Peters and Janie Dee, along with vintage British theatre stars Bonnie Langford and Joanna Riding, was sensational. And at the end when they projected Sondheim’s craggy face on a giant screen there wasn’t a dry eye in the Gielgud Theatre.

“Pollyanna The Musical” at Theatre Aquarius brought laughter and love to Hamilton at Christmastime. Local playwright and lyricist Steven Gallagher and composer Linda Barnett fashioned a score reminiscent of Broadway during its Golden Age. This was a great big Christmas present of a show.

“Bed and Breakfast” at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre delivered touching contemporary theatre. Mark Crawford’s comedy about two gay guys opening a bed and breakfast in a bigoted Ontario town was sensitively acted by Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski and Warren Macauley. It was moving, funny and inclusive. And bah humbug to the bigots who walked out.

“La Dame Aux Camelias.” This stunning ballet by Baden, Ontario choreographer Peter Quanz for Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens was superb. It had lovely lyrical choreography, riveting storytelling and elegant yet simple sets and costumes. Quanz is a gem and should be working in Canada, not some foreign country. What’s that about a prophet without honour in his own country?

Dundas actor, singer, composer and lyricist Jay Turvey directed a seductive production of “Gypsy” at the Shaw Festival. Too bad his star Kate Hennig softened her Mama Rose, unlike Angela Lansbury and Ethel Merman, who burned a patch off the stage by delineating her demons and ruthless, selfish determination.

“To Kill A Mockingbird.” Though the Mirvish Series in Toronto has sadly sold out to loud and overhyped musicals, their Off-Mirvish Series offered a moving production of Aaron Sorkin’s new play based on Harper Lee’s beloved novel. Richard Thomas was touching as Atticus Finch and the show had a quality Broadway feel to it in every way. More of this please Mr. Mirvish.

Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along” has finally come into its own. In New York at the Hudson Theatre this is the hit of the New York Season. And in the cast, right alongside Daniel Radcliffe, is local actor Evan Alexander Smith, currently understudying one of the show’s lead roles. Here’s another actor from the Hamilton area who has taken a bite out of The Big Apple.

Close to home Stephen Near’s beguiling play “Whale Fall” played a short run at the HCA theatre. This touching drama about a daughter, climate change and the way the world can spin suddenly out of control featured wonderful performances from Stephanie Hope Lawlor and Ray Louter. It was also beautifully directed by Aaron Joel Craig. Talk about local theatre folks having professional polish.

Whatever 2024 happens to bring our way theatrically, let’s hope more seats will be filled at theatres everywhere and daring risk-taking shows will come our way.

A very Happy New Year to you dear readers — and may your theatregoing in the year ahead fill your hearts with laughter, love and the joy of live performance.

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for 40 years as well as for a variety of international publications. gsmith1@cogeco.ca.