It’s sometimes hard to please everyone when choosing a vacation destination. Some want to lounge around in the sun all day, others want to get out and explore local culture. Some want to do both. Lake Huron’s shoreline is the perfect destination for those who want it all.
“Truly Electric”: There are many opportunities to experience the jolt of live theatre
By Pat Morden
Some have a vision that going to the theatre can be a rather starchy affair – high-priced tickets, fancy clothes, velvet curtains, and ornate chandeliers. But not here at the lake!
At Huron Country Playhouse (Grand Bend) and other local theatres, theatre-going is as relaxed, comfortable, and accessible as a day at the beach (and the ideal way to end one!). Alex Mustakas, Artistic Director and CEO of Drayton Entertainment, puts it this way: “What you see on the stage is the icing on the cake. Going to the theatre in Grand Bend is a whole experience - the beach, the shopping, the dining, the sunsets, and some of the best theatre in North America!”
Although the pandemic has been tough on local theatres, the passion for producing world-class productions still burns brightly. And that’s good news for visitors.
Huron Country Playhouse (HCP), operated by Drayton Entertainment, has been part of the Grand Bend community for an amazing 50 years. Starting in a converted barn surrounded by farmers’ fields, the theatre was renovated ten years ago to create a modern lobby and an additional, smaller venue, while keeping the classic barn feel. The lush grounds are well positioned to enjoy the shoreline’s famous sunsets during intermission.
HCP is well known for its Broadway musicals featuring top performers from across Canada. Mustakas notes the recent production of Come From Away in Toronto featured several actors who performed at HCP in 2019. The theatre also produces giddy comedies and classic dramas.
A key focus for Mustakas is keeping ticket prices accessible. “We pride ourselves not only on the artistic experience,” he says, “but also on value for money. When I see empty seats, I never think ‘lost revenue’—I think ‘lost experience.’” In common with theatres everywhere, HCP was shuttered in 2020 due to Covid-19. The theatre is poised to offer the 2020 playbill this year, with some sets and costumes already in waiting.
Less than an hour south of HCP is the Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia, the town where Ontario’s short-lived oil boom started. The theatre is housed in Victoria Hall, a flamboyant late nineteenth century building that burned down in 1989 and was faithfully rebuilt. The Playhouse features a summer season of concerts, musical reviews, and plays. Artistic Directors David Hogan and David Rogers attract world-class artists to the quaint little town.
Development Coordinator Callandra Dendias says it’s the focus on customer experience that sets Victoria Playhouse apart. “We really roll out the red carpet for our patrons in every possible way,” she says. “We build personal relationships with our audiences. David Hogan has been known to walk people to their cars after a show!”
When COVID hit, that focus didn’t waver. Ticket holders received personal phone calls to find out how they were coping during the lockdown. The theatre also ran a series on YouTube called “Stay Inspired” that featured archival footage of past performances introduced by the artists involved in them.
The Playhouse has been exploring different scenarios for making the theatre as safe as possible for patrons this year. Says Dendias, “Welcoming patrons back is our focus - we want to get back to sharing that wonderful energy between the artists and the audience.”
Forty-five minutes northeast from Grand Bend, there is yet another unique theatrical experience on offer. The Blyth Festival produces new Canadian plays at historic Blyth Memorial Community Hall, originally built to honour the fallen of World War One. Says Artistic Director Gil Garrett, “Our mission is to give voice to the region and the country. We are constantly working with playwrights and directors and actors to tell stories of the moment we are living.”
One of Blyth’s most innovative productions, The Outdoor Donnellys, was a retelling of a nineteenth century blood feud that included live horses and a carriage performed at the Blyth fairgrounds. This year, the company is hoping to return to the fairgrounds to present productions safely in the age of COVID.
Blyth, Petrolia, and HCP are welcoming spaces that anyone with a taste for entertainment and social commentary can enjoy. Says Garrett, “You don’t go to Blyth in your three-piece suit with your pocket square. If you show up in jeans shorts and a T-shirt, you won’t stick out. The only thing we want audiences to bring is an open heart.”
All three say the experience of live theatre will enrich your vacation immeasurably. Says Dendias, “Depending on the show, it’s a time to let your imagination run wild, it’s an escape, it brings back memories, it’s cathartic.” Garrett agrees, adding, “There’s something remarkable about being all together and imagining the same thing in the same moment. Live theatre is truly electric.”
HURON COUNTRY PLAYHOUSE
Main Stage & Playhouse II, Grand Bend
VICTORIA PLAYHOUSE, PETROLIA
THE LIVERY / GODERICH LITTLE THEATRE
The Livery presents a number of theatrical productions under the Goderich Little Theatre flag, as well as a national and international film series April through September and live musical concerts.
Kineto Theatre, Forest
In operation since 1917 and one of the world's oldest movie theatres, Kineto is open four days a week, year round. Some movies shown in 3D. Call or go online to find out what's playing. kineto.ca, 519-786-2303, 24 King Street West.
Starlite Drive-In, Grand Bend
What could be more fun than enjoying the remaining heat of a summer day while bundling the kids up in their pajamas to watch a movie under the stars? Call or go online to find out what's playing. starlitedriveintheatre.com, 519-238-8344, 36752 Crediton Road.
Park Theatre, Goderich
Two screens playing current movies. movielinks.ca/park-theatre-goderich , 1-800-265-3438, 30 The Square, Goderich.
YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS
- Forest Film Festival, Forest – January 20 & 22, February 17 & 19 & March 16 & 18, 2020
- Lambton Film & Food Festival, Forest – May 21-24, 2020
- The Livery Film Fest, Goderich – September to November
See Festivals & Events for more events, dates, times and details.