Stage Door News
Orangeville: Theatre Orangeville presents The Dream at Island Lake August 22-25
Thursday, February 21, 2019
In music it’s a call and response song. The singer leads with a musical line, the audience sings it back. The singer adds another line, the audience responds, and so the story builds and all have a role in telling it. Call and response is participatory, inclusive, and uplifting; like us, here at Theatre Orangeville. Sometimes we are the singer leading the call, and sometimes we are the responder answering a need in the community.
In this story we all sing together to include, enhance and enrich our audience, to create a once-in-a-lifetime event this August, Shakespeare, outside, on a waterfront stage, The Dream at Island Lake, but first the backstory.
The first call came in 1993.
When word got out in a small town of 18,000 that its 117-year-old Town Hall and Opera House was going to be razed for a parking lot, people rallied, pooled their talents and dreamed big. Why can’t we restore this gorgeous building, rebuild our performance space and start a professional theatre company? They did and in 1994 Theatre Orangeville (TOV) launched its first season with an enduring commitment to produce made-in-Canada plays about and for our community.
Our Commitment to Youth
Right from the beginning Theatre Orangeville wasn’t going to be for adults only. Igniting the imaginations and creating opportunities for kids to shine was a priority: for all kids, not just the ones who were already taking private music or dance lessons, which was mostly what was available at the time in a small town on the edge of the GTA. Theatre Orangeville started with a youth choir and a summer young company. Today more than 500 school-age children a year participated directly in more than a dozen programs. And what’s great is they bring their parents, siblings, family and friends into that same historic Opera House, many of them for the first time, to watch these young people perform and affirm the new confidence they’ve won.
Early on we began presenting productions especially for school audiences based on the provincial curriculum. These productions were enthusiastically received. Now, 5,000 school children a year come to the theatre for our Education on Stage programming. However, when bussing costs and funding challenges started to make further-flung schools think twice about travelling into town, a local partner stepped up and subsidized bus costs. That money eventually ran out, but the need continued. Instead of students coming to us, we would go to them. Employing the talents of university theatre students, our Theatre for Young Audience scripts challenge elementary students and teachers sitting in their own gyms to examine tough questions that live in their lives today like bullying, environmental issues and gender identity. This spring we hope to visit more than 40 area schools.
Our Commitment to Inclusion
The next call came in 2003 from Community Living Dufferin (CLD). Help us provide theatre skills to our adults with developmental disabilities.
Today two groups of actors, our Creative Partners on Stage (CPOS), meet twice a week throughout the year to rehearse an original script with a TOV-provided director, stage manager and choreographer. Volunteers create props. Our design crew builds the set, the lighting plot, the costumes, and programs the music and video. CLD support workers make sure the actors get to rehearsals, practice lines and dance with them on deck! We all fundraise, market and promote the shows. We are of this community. These are our friends and neighbours on stage. In March and June, two full-fledged productions are mounted. They are almost always sold out. No oneleaves untouched by the joy of performance and the glow of acceptance.
When parents of children with autism asked years later what were we doing for their kids? We had to answer truthfully: nothing. We created a program, Theatre Orangeville Exceptional Players (TOEP), for youth with developmental disabilities, and this year we added a third TOEP class for adults who have aged out of the existing program, but have chosen not to participate in CPOS, because they love the format of the TOEP program.
Our Commitment to Diversity
Our most current call is to break down barriers, be more inclusive and continue to make theatre available to our entire community regardless of ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation or financial means. This might be our most challenging opportunity.
Over the years, as our town and rural county have rapidly grown, so has the diversity of cultures that we see represented in our neighbourhoods. A Francophone school thrives and French immersion classes are full. First Nation residents, who have moved into the region, now self-identify and are recognized and supported by an Indigenous cultural circle and a land acknowledgement is repeated in numerous public spaces, including the Theatre. Newcomers from visible minorities are running and being elected to municipal office. LGBTQ youth now have a safe-space prom and a new name for their group, GLOW (Gay Lesbian or Whatever)! Orangeville held its first LGBTQ street party celebration in June 2018. The Theatre is supporting a community-organized drag show fundraiser for next year’s event. Frequently we are asked by non-profits to assist with their fundraisers. We do so whenever and however we are able. Each year we give away 250 theatre tickets to other non-profit organizations to sell as part of their fundraising (we call these givebacks) and donate another 100 tickets for charity fundraisers.
Our creative opportunity is to reflect this brilliant diversity that enhances our community onto our stage through more diversity in our artistic practice. That’s why we launched Fringenorth(519) in July 2018, bringing the best of the Toronto Fringe Festival into two smaller off-site venues in town. This was edgier, more diverse work, at different show times, at a lower more accessible ticket price, presented in an informal bar setting to attract a younger audience. Next year…more shows and more venues.
Our Commitment to Breaking Down Barriers
Our first step in being more inclusive was to break down the physical barriers in the Opera House. Since 2013 we have successfully replaced all 273 seats in the theatre, 16 of those are wheel-chair accessible, added specialty handrails in the new “balcony” and sloped the aisle floors to make them wheelchair friendly and improve sightlines. We have completely refurbished our lights and sound equipment to state of the art low energy, digital components, added a hearing assist system for patrons and a new digital projector so the screen can be more clearly read. In that time, nearly $600,000 worth of capital improvements have been made to the Opera House, an important community asset, owned by the Town, operated by the Theatre in an essential partnership that recognizes the Theatre’s place as a cultural hub in the community and an important tourist attraction.
In 2017 we had our first relaxed performance to invite anyone with any challenges to a more sensory neutral space, where they could enjoy the performance experience. We continue to explore ways to offer price breaks to patrons, through reduced prices through subscriptions, rush tickets, family pricing at Christmas, sponsorships and givebacks.
The Dream at Island Lake
After 25 years, how do we do what we do better? How do we enhance our existing programs and create more opportunities for our community?
We bring it all together in one massive event to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience set under a summer sky on the gorgeous outdoor waterfront stage at Island Lake Conservation Area, a stage that we helped build in partnership with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority and the Rotary Club of Orangeville Highlands and launched in 2017.
How do we do make our Dream come true? We commission a local writer to adapt the script of William Shakespeare’s most enduring comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We commission a local musician to create original music. We hire a professional director and stage manager, and four professional actors to form the core of the artistic team and act as mentors to 3 community actors, 14 Young Company actors (ages 12 -17) and four CPOS actors. The CPOS actors have already auditioned and been chosen on merit from among their peers. Audition calls for the rest of the company will go far and wide within region to attract as diverse a range of actor candidates as possible.
As excitement builds in the months ahead, and our story gets out community partners and sponsors who already support the work of Theatre Orangeville will be invited to contribute time, talent and/or resources to the production. The Orangeville Sweet Adelines have already offered to be an ethereal chorus in the fairy landscape of the Dream. We know others will respond to our call.
So that’s our Dream, the apex of our work to date. This is what we invite you to experience in August 2019, to be part of something larger than our individual selves, to be part of a creative community that recognizes the transformative power of the arts and the need to continue to let our imaginations thrive and build bridges instead of barriers between people–to call and respond and to tell our collective story.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Waterfront Stage at Island Lake
Tickets: 519-942-3423 or www.theatreorangeville.ca