Looking back on stand-out season at the Playhouse

Great season past: great season ahead – Upper Canada Playhouse staff, Courtney Garlough, left, box office, and Roseann Kelly, general manager, are all smiles as they look back over an outstanding 2016 season at the theatre. They are holding up the On Stage newsletter announcing the 2017 production series: it looks like another terrific season at the Playhouse for theatre lovers. (The Leader/Gibb photo)

MORRISBURG – Donnie Bowes and the staff of Upper Canada Playhouse are eagerly looking forward to a summer  of outstanding theatre as April, 2017,  and the first show of the year, fast approaches.

However, there is little doubt that the 2016 season was one of audience-thrilling productions, and several new innovations at the Playhouse.

The theatre is entering its 35th year as a vital part of the South Dundas community, drawing thousands of visitors into this area.

“Our audience attendance was strong again in 2016,” said Donnie Bowes, artistic director at UCP, “and we experienced larger that usual single ticket sales from new audience members discovering us for the first time. That’s always great to see. One of the best things about the summer was our audience really enjoying the variety of shows we now offer.”

In a season filled with outstanding productions, the Playhouse particularly scored smash hits with the Jesse Collins show, Dean and Jerry: What Might Have Been, Norm Foster’s Jonas and Barry in the Home and Miracle on 34th street.

Donnie joked that “actors always delight in…our large, fantastic audiences.”

The local audience and bus tours were robust in the 2016 season, with the Playhouse drawing crowds from Ottawa, Brockville, Cornwall, Montreal and Northern New York State.

“Also picture all those smaller communities that lie between those points and you’re dealing with 40 or 50 or more towns and villages that have made the  Playhouse their entertainment choice.

The Playhouse has also maintained its rock solid and impressive group of sponsors who chose the theatre as an effective and entertaining way to not only support professional live theatre, but also to reach out to the community,” Donnie said.

There were some “new” aspects to Upper Canada Playhouse in the 2016 season.

The Playhouse welcomed the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage to their venue, a relationship, Donnie said, that is “proving to be great. It’s a pleasure to work with their team and to also have their audience enjoy seeing shows in our space.”

The Playhouse inaugurated the new rehearsal hall in 2016.

Everything is now on site at the theatre, with the workshop just beside the hall, and the stage itself a few steps away. The rehearsal hall has made transitions between shows, and communications between casts and crews, easier and much smoother.

The Playhouse also introduced a new method for dealing with crowds looking to purchase flex passes and new season tickets in November of 2016.

Instead of long line-ups in the (often) cold parking lot, the staff opened the main theatre, making it possible for people to sit and chat in comfort while waiting to purchase tickets. It proved a popular change.

“We sell almost 50 per cent of our season seats in November,” Donnie said. “We wanted to accommodate our enthusiastic and loyal customers.”

In 2016, Upper Canada Playhouse also moved into a new field: establishing co-productions with other professional theatres. This is a practice that is “shared by many colleagues that allows theatres to share certain production costs, and to showcase their work to other theatres and audiences.”

Last of the Red Hot Lovers was co-produced with Orillia Opera House and Jonas and Barry in the Home was co-produced with Port Dover’s Light House Theatre.

In 2017, the Playhouse has plans to co-produce Barefoot in the Park with Orillia, Theatre Collingwood and Brampton’s Rose Theatre. “It’ll be quite a tour, and we look forward to taking our product on the road,” Donnie said.

There are some other changes originating in the 2016 season. Among them, the theatre is planning to introduce a Tuesday matinee in 2017.

And the number of school children who got involved with Miracle on 34th Street has led to a discussion about a year round theatre school.

With such a successful 2016 season behind the Playhouse, Donnie Bowes and his staff are looking forward to a terrific 2017  showcase.

“Our 2017 season is designed to “strike that variety our audience wants, to have a good balance of theatre and music. We look to offer shows about real people and real life, but also with a comic viewpoint, or through a comic lens as I always like to say,” Bowes added.

“The Playhouse is fortunate to have had such great supporters over the years. The theatre is proud to be able to give back to the community by becoming a significant contributor to the local economy and a generator of tourism activities.

There’s nothing like a packed parking lot to spark a lot of possibilities,” said artistic director, Donnie Bowes.

“Thirty-four years ago a small group of local citizens decided to start a theatre. Good idea.”

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