Classic Theatre Creates New Venue

They say that a change is as good as a rest, and while the ever-busy producers of the Classic Theatre Festival do not get much rest, they are changing their summer performance space to a renovated, brand new theatre facility at 54 Beckwith Street East (inside the Good Shepherd Hall of Perth’s historic St. James The Apostle Anglican Church). The Festival’s 2014 summer season, including Neil Simon’s comedy Come Blow Your Horn (July 11-August 3) and the classic mystery thriller, Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder (August 8-31), will play at the air conditioned, wheelchair accessible space, which has free on-site parking and is also considered the highest point in Perth. “When we first saw this space, we fell in love with it, not only because of its deep connection to Perth history, but also because it gives us the flexibility we need to present the best possible theatrical experience for our audiences,” explains Artistic Producer Laurel Smith. The hall was originally built as a theatre space but, given changing requirements over the years, the stage was cut back while additional renovations made the space wheelchair accessible. “What we plan to do is build a new stage, bring in top-of-the-line lighting and sound equipment from Ottawa, and create an intimate space where audiences can be comfortably close to the stage in an air conditioned, wheelchair accessible environment,” Smith says. “It’s such a beautiful location, and there will be a lovely area outdoors where we can host our very popular pre-show talks as well.” Meanwhile, St James’ parish priest, Canon Christine Piper, remarks: “We shall be fascinated to see what the Classic Theatre does with the space. It is our pleasure to contribute to the community by hosting this well-respected theatre group during our less busy summer months.” “Given the large amount of extra wall space,” Smith says, “there will be an opportunity to install a Canadian theatre history exhibit that will bring in archival materials from some of Canada’s foundational theatres of the last 60 years. We think people will find the new location a very welcoming and happy place to be. In addition to the trip down memory lane that audiences traditionally get with our shows, they will also see photos of actors they perhaps saw at Stratford 50 years ago, from Julie Harris and Alan Bates to Christopher Plummer and Martha Henry.” Festival producers are also pleased that in renting the space, they will be supporting some of St. James’ innovative community programming, which includes everything from support for an orphan shelter in Malawi and construction of a primary school in Tanzania to a breakfast program for children in Belize and, closer to home, monthly community dinners, and a program for young skateboarders here in Perth. “You really have to see it to believe it, but the Hall has hosted a remarkable program called Skater Church during the fall and winter months,” Smith says. “In a town like Perth, where there isn’t always a lot for young people… Continue reading

Charitable Program Gets New Name

Ever since Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival began performing hits from the golden age of Broadway in 2010, it has maintained a program that opens up blocks of free seats, making professional theatre accessible to all members of the community, regardless of income. Begun with a grant from the Perth & District Community Foundation, the Classic Theatre Festival’s Save-a-Seat program has offered over 600 free theatre tickets to individuals who can access them at the Salvation Army, through Lanark County Social Services, The Table, YAK, and various other agencies that serve residents surviving on limited incomes. Other groups have included First Nations Deer Lake evacuees who were then being housed in Smiths Falls, and residents of women’s shelters. “The program was originally inspired by a 2009 letter to the editor we saw in the Perth Courier,” explains Artistic Director Laurel Smith. “Sue Cavanagh of Lanark County Child and Youth Poverty Action Network discussed in poignant detail the opportunities missed by at least 12% of children in Lanark County who cannot go to birthday parties, attend after school activities, have a pet, enjoy the arts, and, on a more direct level, miss out on one or more meals in a day. “It was a reminder that behind the gorgeous facades of Heritage Perth and the other communities in Lanark, we have a hidden poverty that is not just economically marginalizing, it is also socially isolating. Save-a-Seat breaks that social isolation and can serve as a step into re-integrating into the community. Some of those who first met us through Save-a-Seat have become volunteers.” Smith also points out that the Classic Theatre Festival serves as a significant economic driver in the summer, bringing thousands of tourists to town whose spending in stores, restaurants, and accommodations has a positive economic impact that results in increased employment and related social benefits. Following a partnership with the Perth Museum last summer that featured a Canadian Theatre History exhibit, Save-a-Seat was renamed in honour of the parents of the Festival’s Associate Producer, Matthew Behrens. “The Deborah Cass/Bunny Behrens Save-a-Seat program was named for my parents because they toured this country with Canadian Players in the early years of the Stratford Festival, bringing theatre to the people and making this magical experience accessible to all,” says Matthew Behrens. “They were also very committed to the idea of social justice and equality, so we figured that combination of community commitment and artistic excellence should be remembered in an active, living program like Save-a-Seat.” Bunny Behrens lived at Lanark Lodge until he passed away in September, 2012, but during his time in Perth was memorable as a raconteur whose stories of the golden age of Canadian and British theatre included his own early days at the Bristol Old Vic, where he acted with (and was also a drinking buddy of) the late Peter O’Toole, who passed away in early January 2014. Charitable, tax-deductible donations to the renamed Deborah Cass/Bunny Behrens Save-a-Seat program can be made by writing a cheque to… Continue reading