Theatre and live performances in Kawartha Lakes this summer boast top-notch talent

The Grove Theatre, Globus Theatre and The Flato Academy Theatre expect busy year

By Geoff Coleman

Leisa Way is at Globus Theatre in October starring in Rhinestone Cowgirl: A Celebration of Dolly Parton. Photo: Pete Paterson.

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting time for theatre goers in the Kawartha Lakes area. Each community has a unique live performance venue, each at a different stage of development. From Shakespeare to opera to Canadian rock royalty, fans of live performance could stay busy virtually every night from May to December.

The Players

The new kid on the block is the Grove Theatre in Fenelon Falls. Literally carved into a grove of trees on a hillside, it hosts al fresco performances ranging from classic plays to absurdist comedy acts. There is nothing quite like hearing a performance outdoors, and the winding walk from the parking area through the cedars sets a mood that can’t be experienced at other theatres in Ontario.

Obviously, the threat of bad weather looms every night, but has rarely materialized with only a handful of shows canceled in the theatre’s first two years. In fact, one performance by Neil Osborne from 54-40 became memorable because of the weather. Rain halted what was a full-on rock and roll show, and after the clouds passed, Osborne returned without the band to the now puddled stage and delivered an unplugged set of songs in a manner the audience had never heard before. With the air cleaned by the rain, and the aroma of the cedars turned up to 10, it was slice of time that couldn’t happen indoors.

As Nicole Mitchell, general manager says, “We often joke that The Grove is in a bubble, and we’ve really lucked out. We had one performance where it was raining on the other side of the bridge, but not at The Grove!”

Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo fame will be a featured performer at the Grove Theatre in Fenelon Falls.

While the Grove is just getting a foothold, Globus Theatre is firmly rooted as it enters its 20th season. Located between Bobcaygeon and Lindsay in a grand old building christened the Lakeview Arts Barn, the creative team of Artistic Director Sarah Quick and Artistic Producer James Barrett have created a unique venue, located in a picturesque rural setting, and offering an intimate and immersive theatre experience for audiences.

Originally a working cattle barn, the LAB transformed into a dance hall with the largest hardwood dance floor in Ontario in 1967 and then a venue for the arts in 2006. Throughout its lifetime, Quick says, “it has been a gathering place for the community and that continues today.”

Attending a Globus production at the LAB is an easy experience. Parking is right there and free, a spacious lobby welcomes, and it’s a great spot to mingle with neighbours and friends before and after the show. Seating is modern and comfortable and fosters the intimacy of the performances. And if you have ever had to cut a meal short so you can make it to the theatre on time, bear in mind that an attached restaurant offers three-course dining prior to each evening show featuring locally grown fare and a fully stocked bar.

Quick believes the Kawarthas will become a destination for live performance. Barrett adds that, “people renting a local cottage for a week they could easily see three really different performances.” This has led them to expand their season, which once ran from July to Labour Day, but is now from May through December.

She notes that a changing demographic has made the extended season possible. “Full time residents of the area have expressed an interest in live theatre. Some of these people were once seasonal residents but are now living here year round and are willing to support Globus in the shoulder seasons.”

With an astounding 130 years of operation, the Flato Academy Theatre is a part of the cultural fabric of Lindsay. It is becoming a rare bird among Ontario theatres since it receives no annual municipal support. Being fully independent means it can’t rely on political funding, but also frees it of any political constraints.

Seeing a show at the Academy feels like you are going to a theatre with a capital T. It is colourful, historic, offers rich acoustics, and boasts more seats than the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York where The Late Show with David Letterman, and now, Stephen Colbert is filmed.

The history of performers taking to the stage is impressive. In the last 30 years alone, names like Tommy Hunter, Charlie Pride, Marty Stuart, Steve Earle, Rita MacNeil, Bruce Cockburn, Ron Sexsmith, Jann Arden, Northern Pikes, Joel Plaskett, the Stampeders, Kim Mitchell, and Blue Rodeo have played there.

As an audience member, it’s the kind of place that you don’t easily forget. Sonically, it is still great, and architecturally, it is a trip into the past without an obstructed view in the place. There are no bad seats whether you are in the balcony or the first row, and it is not hard to imagine it as a vaudeville theatre in its heyday.

What’s Playing

The Grove Theatre plans to continue their winning mix of drama, comedy, and music for their third season. In addition, special events, workshops, and community performances continue to establish the theatre as a vibrant hub for arts and culture in Fenelon Falls.

On the heels of last year’s 39 Steps, co-artistic directors Christy Yael and Sean Cox are preparing two mainstage productions: The Comedy of Errors and Million Dollar Quartet.

“The cornerstone of our season is in rep productions of Shakespeare’s slapstick farce The Comedy of Errors and Jukebox Musical Million Dollar Quartet and we are thrilled to be able to expand our theatre offering this season with these two exceptional productions,” says Cox.

In the comedy department, returnee Elvira Kurt, and first timers Bruce McCulloch and Ali Hassan will bring the laughs. Kurt is now in her fourth decade of showbiz and has won a Canadian Screen Award & Canadian Comedy Award and a Cannes Film Festival Award. Fans of edgy, early 90s comedy will recognize McCulloch from his work with the ground-breaking Kids in the Hall troupe, and fans of current TV will know Ali Hassan from his work on CBC’s Run the Burbs. He also hosts CBC Radio’s Laugh out Loud.

The household names continue on the roster of musical guests. Canadian rock royal Jim Cuddy (founding member of Blue Rodeo) will close the theatre in September but not before performances from Séan McCann, Good Lovelies and Julian Taylor.

Best known for his work with Great Big Sea, founding member Séan McCann combines hilarious stories and foot-stomping traditional favourites to create a one-of-a-kind night of entertainment. Good Lovelies, winners of the 2010 Juno award for Roots and Traditional Album (Group) will offer another can’t-miss performance, and Julian Taylor who has transplanted to the greater Fenelon Falls area and drops in on local open mic nights on a semi-regular basis brings his roots-inflected folk music to the Grove for the third time.

“I’ve had some of my most memorable shows at The Grove,” says Taylor. “There’s magic in beneath the shelter of the trees and the moonlight that really connects you to nature and people. It’s a lovely place to perform and watch a show.

Rebecca Anne Bloom, James Barrett and Sarah Quick of Globus Theatre, kicking off their busiest season ever. Photo: Geoff Coleman.

Over at the LAB, the Barrett-Quick team will bring an impressive nine main shows to the stage, all of which are created by Canadians, and four one-night shows. Notable among the main shows is a murder mystery, a genre that has proven to be wildly popular, and “Sexy Laundry” which was performed during Globus’ tenth anniversary season.

It is a story of a relationship, and Quick says, “We were tempted to call it “Sexy Laundry…with Love Handles” as a nod to changes occurring during the last decade. It remains the most successful show in their 19 years.

Mending Fences from national treasure Norm Foster opens the calendar, and roughly every two weeks, a new show premieres, including plays honouring Dolly Parton, curling and Newfie entrepreneurs.

The pace and schedule demands include rehearsing the next one while staging the current one, finalizing menus, directing the shows, revising scripts, ordering food and liquor, looking after ticket sales, responding to media requests, and doing payroll, among other things. This has led singer-actress Cyndi Carleton to call Quick and Bartlett the hardest working couple in show business.

Carleton, who has sang on stages across Canada, says, “It was remarkable to me how hard they work every day to make the theatre run. They love theatre and they love the community. It was truly inspiring to work with them.”

In addition to the main performances, four one-night only shows will run. Among them are “Girl’s Night Out” which Quick describes as, “an all-female, all funny stand-up and improv comedy ensemble featuring CBC darlings and Canadian Comedy Award Winners.” This is another returning show since it originated on the LAB stage in 2007 and has appeared in theatres across Canada.

And Chris Gibbs brings his one-man show, Not Quite Sherlock to the LAB in September. Movie buffs will recognize Gibbs from his turn in Steven Spielberg’s The BFG in 2016.

Meanwhile, at the Academy Theatre in Lindsay, theatre lovers can expect an exciting and diverse lineup of shows that cater to various tastes and interests.

Craig Metcalf, GM of the Flato Academy Theatre in Lindsay, says Burton Cummings will be gracing the theatre’s stage this year. Photo: Geoff Coleman.

Craig Metcalf, general manager, says the Academy will follow its usual mix of travelling shows, and locally produced performances. While usually quiet during the summer months the Academy will be a beehive of activity when the Triple Threat Theatre takes the stage for four show of “Matilda the Musical.”

Truly a local production, it is the kind of thing Metcalf likes to see since it aligns with one of the Academy’s core mandates: working with the community to provide access to a stage, but also to act as an incubator.

To that end, June will be dance studio recital month and it is hoped that the annual I.E. Weldon Antics cabaret will return after a brief hiatus.

In terms of travelling shows, patrons can expect more of the popular tribute acts, and performances by David Wilcox, Dwayne Gretzky, Sultan’s of Swing and The Canine Circus as seen on Canada’s Got Talent.

Metcalf is particularly excited by a production of “The Last Waltz”, helmed by Juno and Maple Blues winner, Lance Anderson. Recreating the legendary farewell concert by the Band, it promises classic songs performed by topflight musicians.

As well, Metcalf notes that the legendary Burton Cummings will grace the stage at the Academy on Oct. 17.

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