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 to do, the decision by St. James to welcome the skateboarders to both have fun and develop a spiritual conscience has been a real contribution to our community for the past six years. St. James also hosts Messy Church for young families, another innovative program of similar duration. The congregation’s commitment to bridging the generational gap in towns like ours fits with our own mandate of bringing people of wide backgrounds together to share in the experience of community through the arts.”
While the Festival works on coordinating all the pieces to put together the new theatre space, along with plans for a number of other surprises to be announced next month, it is also treating its new and returning audience members to a Valentine’s Day Special: any regularly priced tickets ordered on or before February 14 will be given a 15% discount, with the freedom to choose dates later in the summer. To order those discounted tickets, visit www.classictheatre.ca or call toll-free 1-877-283-1283. They can also be picked up at Tickets Please, 39 Foster Street, in Perth.