If we say A night out at the theatre, what pops into your head? Is it a drive into the big city, to a venue like the Princess of Whales, the Royal Alexandra or The Four Seasons Theatre? Or are you one of those fortunate arts and culture lovers who inherently includes community theatre in your entertainment catalogue? While international productions of the kind that are performed on the larger Toronto stages are definitely a bucket-list kind of thing, community theatre is a world of its own. It is an entirely different, more intimate—and often more interactive—experience which is integral to the places in which we live, work, play and call home.
If you can’t imagine what we’re talking about, then we invite you behind the scenes—literally!—of Theatre Orangeville, which has been thriving in our Headwaters region for nearly thirty years.
Founded in 1994, Theatre Orangeville is a fully professional theatre company, which means that everyone involved from one end of the production to the other is paid. “This is how we make our living; this is what we do,” says David Nairn, artistic director. Where other locations in Ontario are touring houses, meaning they are performance spaces which welcome rotating community and amateur theatre groups, Theatre Orangeville is a producing company. Its actors, artists, musicians, set designers, and all other personnel work out of this one special location.
As one might imagine of a community theatre, Theatre Orangeville is a uniquely Canadian specialty. Its all-Canadian artistic mandate is dedicated to producing and commissioning works exclusively by Canadian composers and writers. “From commissioning a show, to day one of a three-week rehearsal schedule, to another three weeks of running time, we produce completely Canadian-made content from the ground up,” David states proudly. “We are the only theatre company in [York Durham Headwaters] that does that on a professional level.”
What makes community theatre, and in particular Theatre Orangeville, different from its internationally-known Toronto counterparts is its integration into the community in more ways than just the paid performances it produces. For example, Theatre Orangeville runs a large children’s program, with up to 400 children a year participating in after school programming between September and May. Two further youth summer programs—one musical-based company in July and one play-based company in August—together with its regular performance season of five plays or musicals, make the theatre’s offerings year-round. And for the past decade, the theatre has offered after school programming specifically for autistic children and children on the autism spectrum.
In addition to its work with schools, Theatre Orangeville has a substantial differently abled program. For the past 16 years, staff have been collaborating with Community Living Dufferin, a local organization that works with neuro-developmentally challenged adults in an effort to encourage them to participate in their community and teach them life skills. “We’ve been creating new plays and musicals that celebrate ability,” David explains. “Some of the participants have been with us the entire time we’ve been offering this program.”
With such a diverse list of programs, one might wonder what an artistic director at Theatre Orangeville typically does in a day. The answer to that, David says, is that there is no typical day. His time might be taken up with rehearsals, fundraising events, negotiation of artist contracts, grant application planning and workshop development. Sometimes his work week is six or even seven days long. “Theatre is exciting, and no two days are the same,” he says. “I’m currently in the midst of signing ‘Thank You’ letters for about five hundred people for participating in our latest fundraising efforts, which was just a couple of weeks ago. After that I’m into planning for our next season. It all depends on what we’ve got going on at that time.”
He adds, “About eight-five percent of my job is creative on some level. I am blessed that I’ve never worked a day in my life. At least it feels that way because I love what I do. It still amazes me that this is my career.”
Overall, it is the talent of the community that Theatre Orangeville credits for its success, and David is extremely thankful for its contributions. He says, “It is, in my opinion, the most artistic and arts-and-culture-centric community in the country. I don’t believe there is one that is its equal in terms of the number of weavers, painters, sculptors, dancers, writers, actors and entrepreneurs. It’s only because of the support of our community—and that includes our broader community of subscribers who come from places like Toronto, Newmarket, Collingwood and Georgetown—that we can do what we do. People come to us because they see the unique and different programming that they don’t get at home.”
Though its main season performances are entirely professional, that is not to say that all of its work is exclusively professional. Recognizing the contributions and talents of its community, the theatre works on occasion with local, community-based, amateur actors. In fact, this past summer the theatre performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream on an outdoor stage at Island Lake. What made this production unique was that it was a mix of the company’s professional actors, as well as local amateur actors, members of the theatre’s youth group, and members of differently abled acting companies.
“It’s because we live here,” David says of the theatre’s inclusivity. “It’s our home. When it’s home, there is a different level of involvement and a different level of emotional investment.”
If you want to learn more about Theatre Orangeville and its upcoming performances, visit David Nairn and his company online at www.theatreorangeville.ca or call 1-800-424-1295. Theatre Orangeville is located at 87 Broadway, Orangeville.
Story by Katherine Ryalen