Classic Theatre Festival to Relaunch in Ottawa in Summer 2022

As we look with wariness on a holiday season once again marked by Covid variant concerns and reminders to mask up and socially distance, the Classic Theatre Festival is pleased to offer a glimmer of hope for its audience members with a planned relaunch in the summer of 2022. Like all professional theatres, the Festival was forced to shutter its doors during the first wave of the pandemic, a sad moment following the successful completion of the company’s first decade in Perth, Ontario. In 2019, the Festival enjoyed a busy summer with a dinner theatre presentation, three mainstage shows, a historic walking play and, through its parent company, Burning Passions Theatre, a youth theatre touring show addressing body image and eating disorders. “It felt like going from 100 miles an hour to a sudden, full stop, but canceling was the easiest and hardest decision we ever made,” explains Artistic Producer Laurel Smith. “Performer, staff, and audience safety are always a paramount concern, so after much research and consultation with public health authorities and our peers in the professional theatre world, we were among the first to cancel our 2020 season. It was incredibly hard, though, because at the time, it felt like we would never again be able to return to the stage.” Almost two years later, Smith says the remarkable strides made with vaccination – combined with far better knowledge of the attributes of the airborne virus and protective safety measures – have allowed live event spaces to slowly and safely return to in-person performance. “Like everyone else, we are learning the Greek alphabet with each new variant,” says Smith, adding, “While Omicron is a concern right now, we feel comfortable that, based on public health trends and the experience of other professional theatres, that we can safely re-open next summer.” The Festival is planning to relaunch in downtown Ottawa’s historic Arts Court Theatre, another decision that grew out of the uncertainty of a decade marked by the real-world drama of climate change and pandemic anxiety. As a result, the company will be investing in health protocols that will make going to the theatre a safe experience, “Things have changed for all arts organizations after two years of relative dormancy, and unfortunately, the costs and challenges of putting on the Festival in Perth are just no longer viable with the new normal,” Smith explains. “Arts Court Theatre is a wonderful space in a beautiful heritage building, and with over half of our audience based in Ottawa, it seemed like a great fit. We also know that a lot of audience members from Lanark County often visit Ottawa because it is only an hour away, so we look forward to seeing our Perth and area friends next year as well.” As Smith reflects on an experiment that began in 2010 – a new professional theatre in a new region – she recalls the “Field of Dreams” moment when she saw that, “if we build it and we market it, they… Continue reading

Curtain Falls on Classic Theatre Festival, But Burning Passions Will Go On

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” – Arundhati Roy After a decade as one of Lanark County’s marquee summertime entertainment experiences, the Classic Theatre Festival has been forced to suspend opreations due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic. The only professional company in the Ottawa Valley, which annually brought to town top talent from the world of Canadian theatre, television and film to perform hits from the golden age of Broadway and the London stage, the Classic Theatre Festival was a tourism draw that pumped more than $12 million into the local economy. “Due to the ongoing pandemic that forced the Classic Theatre Festival to postpone our 2020 season, and the uncertainty that extends well into 2021 and beyond, the company cannot sustain this large-scale event during the pandemic,” said Artistic Producer Laurel Smith. “A Festival of our size cannot operate in this new high-risk environment, where the long-term planning timelines that are critical to our viability are not currently feasible.” The decision to suspend the Festival was a “devastating” one, Smith says, and came during “the saddest board meeting we have ever attended.  Our board was so invested in this project, working as volunteers in Front of House management, as ushers, as cheerleaders for what was a really unique experience.” The Classic Theatre Festival left a huge cultural footprint in the town of Perth and beyond. Its anchor was its critically acclaimed, award-winning productions on the mainstage (for the last six years at the St. James Anglican auditorium, which was transformed annually into a professional theatre space). But there were many other moving parts to the company that draw tens of thousands of tourists to town, from historic Perth through the Ages walking plays that animated downtown streets in and around Matheson House as well as night-time “Lonely Ghosts walks,” to the sold-out dinner theatre shows in collaboration with Michael’s Table. The Festival was also lauded as a model of community engagement, from its ability to hire and train dozens of young people each summer (teaching new skills while also funding post-secondary education!) to its legendary Save-A-Seat program, which opened up thousands of free seats to low-income and socially marginalized community members across Eastern Ontario to attend professional theatre in dignity. In addition, hundreds of volunteers helped usher, paint sets, and host out of town performers and technicians, building deep and lasting friendships that will outlast this gloomy period. “A key part of our success was also based on the partnerships we built with Perth and area restaurants, accommodations, and stores, enabling all of us together to offer visitors to town a full range of experiences,” said Smith, who in addition to helming the Festival, played a leading role in promoting tourism to Perth through her work with the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Association as well as local and regional organizations. While this is… Continue reading