Stage Door News
London: Grand Theatre announces an operating surplus and the departure of Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Two significant announcements bookended today’s 2021/22 Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the Grand Theatre. Anita Shah, President of the Grand Theatre Board of Directors, began the meeting by announcing an operating surplus of $14,486 for the 2021/22 year – bringing the theatre’s accumulated surplus to a total of $599,110. Closing the meeting, Dennis Garnhum announced that he will be stepping down as Artistic Director of the Theatre at the end of the 2022/23 Season.
These announcements come after the theatre experienced another historic year, which included: a return to live performances; the completion of a $9.5 million renovation; strategic audience rebuilding; the retirement of long-time Executive Director, Deb Harvey; and navigating the ongoing challenges of COVID-19.
Reflecting on the notable season, Anita Shah, President of the Grand Theatre Board of Directors, observes: “Following a period of societal upheaval, tremendous uncertainty, and empty theatre seats, it is fair to say we began this season with both great anticipation and a quiet trepidation. Despite another challenging and tumultuous year for the theatre industry, the Grand marched forward to create a season of incredible achievement, monumental firsts, and bold theatre magic.”
Grand Theatre Executive Director, Evan Klassen, echoed the sentiments of his colleague, noting: “It is no secret that the past year has been challenging for the arts and entertainment industry. Between COVID-19 and the staggering rates of inflation, audiences are understandably tentative and slow to fully return to the theatre. But, even with these challenges, the Grand rose to the occasion to not only produce some of the finest live theatre in our country, in a beautifully-revamped facility, but to also make incredible strides in welcoming and sharing the joy of theatre with new communities in London and beyond.”
These sentiments, along with other seasonal and operational highlights, were shared at the Theatre’s annual AGM. This year, the meeting was held in-person for the first time in four years, and was attended by members of the Grand’s Board of Directors, donors, sponsors, volunteers, and staff.
2021/22 SEASON OPERATIONAL HIGHLIGHTS
Although challenged by the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the Theatre successfully produced two original and innovative pieces of theatre in the Fall of 2021: The Great Grand Road Trip and the Grand Re:Opening Festival.
In early fall 2021, the High School Project saw 36 students create a video love letter to the City of London: The Great Grand Road Trip. The Project had students travel to various historical sites and landmarks to perform classic musical theatre numbers in new, non-traditional ways. The presentation was available for complimentary download online from September 29th through October 11th and recorded 1,485 downloads.
After 16 months of empty theatre seats, the Grand safely welcomed audiences back to the Theatre for the Grand Re:Opening Festival. Taking place over the course of four weeks in October, this ambitious Festival presented a variety of original performances from artists: Summer Bressette, Richard Gracious, Alexandra Kane, and Mark Uhre – utilizing various locations within the newly-renovated theatre. Each performance was professionally filmed and offered at no cost for viewing online between November 18th through 29th. This resulted in 1,114 downloads.
The fall of 2021 also marked the completion of one of the Grand’s most ambitious projects to date: RENO2020. This $9.5 million renovation resulted in open, accessible, and modernized spaces; state-of-the-art theatre technology; and better functioning working spaces for artists and staff. To celebrate the completion of this significant renovation, the Grand welcomed over 200 people to the Theatre to “cut the ribbon” and officially open the newly-renovated theatre in November 2021.
Ron Koudys, Chair of the Board of the Grand Theatre Foundation, and an instrumental member of the team that brought the renovation to fruition, remarked: “What the Grand has accomplished with this significant renovation is not only a win for the Theatre, but also for the City of London. The Grand’s vision, in tandem with the creativity and hard work of Cornerstone Architecture and Bronnenco Construction Ltd., have resulted in something that will appeal to all Londoners, and help attract new artists and audiences from across the globe.”
The Grand’s first live holiday show in two years brought audiences back “home” for an original Grand presentation, Home for the Holidays. This ninety-minute, theatrical celebration played on the Spriet Stage from November 30th through December 24thand featured 27 diverse holiday songs, eight extraordinary voices, and six world-class musicians. In addition, the Grand was proud to continue its partnership with the London Food Bank for the fifth year, and raised $40,031 for a five-year total of over $340,810. 100% of these funds have been directed to the London Food Bank.
The COMPASS new play development program, launched in November 2016, moved forward to welcome two prominent premieres to the Theatre: Room and GROW.
After being postponed three times due to COVID-19, the Grand staged the North American premiere of Room by Emma Donoghue. The show played March 8th through 19th and received strong social and media attention before travelling to Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre from April 5th through May 8th.
The Theatre ended its season on a “high” with the World Premiere of the musical comedy GROW. With the support of celebrated Canadian producer Michael Rubinoff, and the Grand Ignitor Group, the show debuted on the Spriet Stage from April 19th through 30th.
Throughout the year, the Grand continued its anti-oppression work by hosting a number of company workshops and round-table discussions.
In June, after 22 years of unparalleled leadership and 21 years of annual surpluses, the Grand toasted and bid farewell to Executive Director, Deb Harvey at the Grand Gala. Deb’s tenure at the Grand will be remembered as 22 years of financial leadership, increased inclusivity, and dynamic change.
Throughout the shutdown, the Grand provided employment for 270 people (up 188 from the previous year) and contributed over $3.9M in salaries and benefits. Of goods and services purchased, 53%, or $850,938 was spent locally, making a strong contribution to the local economy.
BMO returned as the Grand’s Season Sponsor, and Title Sponsors for the season included: McCormick Canada (Home for the Holidays), Ahria Consulting (Room), and Michael and Stephanie McDonald (GROW). Further, Libro Credit Union renewed their support as Lead Community Partner of the Grand’s Make a Difference youth programming initiatives – supporting the High School Project as Title Sponsor.
Led by Season Sponsor, BMO Financial Group, sponsors, donors, and community supporters generated $ 1,360,170 (24% revenue) in contributions for the 2021/22 season, demonstrating the continued and dedicated support of our patrons.
The Grand Theatre gratefully acknowledges the support of our government funders: the City of London, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Canada Council for the Arts. In the 2021/22 season, this support accounted for 20% of total revenue ($1,129,308).
In fiscal year 2021/22, and in response to COVID-19, special government funding through Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program (THRP), the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), totalled $1.38M or 24%.
The Grand remains grateful to its government partners and for the continued support of its many sponsors, community partners, and donors.
At the conclusion of the AGM, Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum announced that the 2022/2023 season will be his final season at the Grand Theatre. Garnhum expressed: “The Grand has always been a special place for me – it was where I saw my first professional production and where my theatre career began. So, when I arrived at the Grand seven years ago, I came with an ambitious plan: to make us World Curious and London Proud. These four words encapsulated my dream for the theatre – to see us become a hub for generating bold, new productions from across the world and right here in London. And, more than that, to see the Grand become a place where all felt welcome: a true home to every Londoner. These dreams are now becoming a reality, and will only continue to grow with our current Grand team – one of the best in the country. I am so proud of all that has been accomplished in the past seven years, and feel as though my work here is complete. I look forward to new creative adventures!”
Arriving at the Grand in 2016, Dennis quickly made his mark on the Theatre and within the London community. Notably, he spearheaded several, instrumental theatre programs, including: COMPASS New Play Development Program, 100 Schools educational outreach, and 1000 Seats community initiative.
Driving forward his World Curious aspiration, Dennis fostered partnerships with theatre companies across Canada and the world, including: Mirvish Productions (Toronto), the National Theatre (UK), Covent Garden Productions (UK), American Conservatory Theatre (San Francisco), and The Stratford Festival (Stratford).
Dennis’ inaugural playbill with the Grand in the 2017-18 Season, featured the world premiere of Silence: Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell by Trina Davies, the North American premiere of Chariots of Fire, and a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol – Dennis’ directorial debut at the Grand. The following season, he directed Prom Queen: The Musical, Timothy Findley’s The Wars, and a record-setting run of the immersive Cabaret, that was extended three times on the Auburn (then McManus) Stage, and was set for a cross-Canadian tour in the 2020/21 Season before the pandemic shuttered theatres.
For the 2019/20 season, Dennis directed workshops of a new Canadian musical Grow at two of North America's prestigious musical theater incubators: Sheridan College’s Canadian Music Theatre Program and the Goodspeed Festival of New Music in East Haddam, CT. Following these rigorous workshops, Grow had its world premiere at the Grand Theatre in Spring of 2022.
In Dennis’s tenure, 10 premieres were developed and staged at the Grand Theatre through the COMPASS New Play Development Program – including the world premiere of Grow, which Dennis directed, and the North American premiere of Room by Emma Donoghue. An internationally-acclaimed, co-production with Covent Garden Productions in the UK and Mirvish Productions, Room is now slated to open on Broadway on April 17th, 2023. Also receiving outstanding critical and audience reception was the Grand’s holiday smash hit Elf – The Musical, which ran November 22nd – December 31st, 2022. With Dennis at the helm, over 30,000 people enjoyed the holiday production, which is now the highest grossing production in the Theatre’s history. It was also one of 6 productions directed by the outgoing Artistic Director.
In late 2022, Dennis wrote and published his debut novel: Toward Beauty: Reigniting a Creative Life on the Camino de Santiago. Part poignant memoir, part irresistibly charming travelogue, Toward Beauty chronicles the life of Garnhum as an artistic director and pulls readers into his expedition of self re-discovery through the pandemic – all while solo hiking the 830 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago del Norte. The book has received strong critical and online reception – with five stars on Amazon Canada and a score of 4.7 on GoodReads.
Dennis is a recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee and a Calgary Award for Community Achievement in Arts.
With a mixture of sadness and gratitude for the outgoing Artistic Director, Anita Shah, President of the Grand Theatre Board of Directors, remarked: “If I were to describe Dennis’s tenure at the Grand in one word, it would be ambitious. Ambitious in his commitment to staging new work, ambitious in his natural ability to form significant, international partnerships, and ambitious to break down systemic industry barriers in a pursuit to make theatre arts more widely accessible. And, what’s remarkable is Dennis’s ambitions weren’t merely hollow hopes, but tangible goals, which I have proudly witnessed come to life over the past seven years. His ambitions have given the theatre a unique identity, and have paved an exciting path for our future. On behalf of the Board, we are forever grateful for Dennis’s leadership, and will miss his positive, curious, and creative spirit within the Theatre. Fortunately for us, however, we won’t have to miss him for too long as he has already signed on to direct our 2023/24 farce-meets-murder mystery: Clue. This exciting co-production with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, will be a delight for audiences of all ages and allow Dennis to really flex that creative muscle that we all love.”
Dennis closed by saying, “It has been an absolute privilege and the highlight of my career to be a part of the Grand’s story, and to work so closely with some of the most talented artists and administrators in the country. The Grand’s future is brighter than ever before, and I am excited to see what it will bring.”
In the coming months, the Board of Directors will conduct a nation-wide search process for the incoming Artistic Director, with the intention to have someone in place by the new season.
The Grand Theatre wishes to acknowledge and honour the original stewards of the land on which our Theatre stands. Gratitude and recognition are extended to the Attawandaron (also known as Neutral), Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, and Lunaapewak peoples for preserving this land where we gather and create art.
About the Grand Theatre – World Curious. London Proud.
In the heart of downtown London, Ontario lies one of Canada’s oldest regional theatres and a leading cultural hub of today: the Grand Theatre. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum and Executive Director Evan Klassen, the Grand proudly presents diverse, relevant, and original stories from around the globe – and around the corner – on its two stages. The not-for-profit theatre is committed to developing, producing, and premiering original stories through its COMPASS New Play Development program. Further, it is an ardent supporter of educational programming, as demonstrated through initiatives like the High School Project and Subsidized Student Matinees. For more information, visit: www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Dennis Garnhum.