Few industries were hit by the pandemic harder than professional theatre. But in Orillia at least, theatre hasn’t just recovered: it’s come roaring back to life.
Audiences have returned in droves to the Orillia Opera House, where many performances last season were sold out.
“Theatre has a way of thriving through challenge,” explains Jesse Collins, who is entering his ninth season as Artistic Director. “In Orillia, it has grown more successful each year since we were able to return to the stage.”
Theatre, he says, provides a place of continuity and normalcy through difficult periods. And also, a place to laugh. “The plays we present are designed primarily to leave an audience laughing. Thinking a bit, maybe. But always through laughter.”
Few playwrights embody that approach better than Norm Foster. The OOH will continue its strong association with the prolific Canadian, producing a world premiere of his work for the second year in a row.
That show, Moving In, runs from July 5 to 21. An older couple is moving in together and their grown children aren’t particularly fond of the idea. It’s a witty spin on the role reversals that can happen when older couples are starting relationships and adult children need to adjust their points-of-view.
Mark Crawford’s Bed and Breakfast runs July 26 to August 11. When Brett’s Aunt Maggie dies and leaves him a gorgeous old home in a charming tourist town, he and Drew leave their Toronto condo behind to start anew. Will they overcome the prejudice and the problems in their new community, or will they long for the diversity and the excitement of the city?
This production is directed by Fiona Sauder from Bad Hats Theatre in Toronto. “Fiona is the most exciting young theatre professional in the country,” says Jesse. “She’s in enormous demand. The OOH has become a place which draws truly top-notch talent, which is very exciting – for us and for the audience.”
A Norm Foster classic, Halfway There, completes the season, from August 16 to September 1. Vi, Rita, Mary Ellen, and Janine know everything about everyone in their tiny town of Stewiacke, Nova Scotia. But they didn’t expect the handsome doctor who’s just moved in. Things are about to get interesting in the lives of four old friends.
All shows are performed in the intimate Studio Theatre, where Jesse has rekindled the notion of intentionally small theatre. “Audiences connect so strongly when they are in a studio experiencing stories created by top-tier playwrights and actors,” he says.
It is like an Off-Broadway experience: top-notch professional Canadian actors, many of whom you’ll recognize from television and Toronto stages, in an intimate setting where there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS COLE BENNETT