Thursday, 3 April 2014

Stories of Producing Quality Theatre in a Rural Setting

By Mairin Smit, Program Coordinator

As we dive into the month of April, I am starting to get more and more excited about the upcoming "Symposium for the Performing Arts in Rural Communities" (SPARC) in Haliburton at the end of the month. I look forward to meeting and connecting with artists who are embracing their rural roots and creating dynamic and creative work in their own communities. I know I’m going to learn a lot!

I am also getting energized about the "Producing Quality Theatre in a Rural Setting" panel discussion at SPARC hosted by Theatre Ontario, on Friday, April 25 in the 3:45pm timeslot. Anne Mooney, Community Theatre Coordinator, and I have been working on the panel since the early fall and it’s shaping up to be an excellent session. With panelists from both professional and community theatres across the province, it should be a lively discussion on how to overcome obstacles, build theatre from the ground up, and grow support in small and distant communities.

From the beginning, one of the goals of this panel has been fostering a dialogue between the professional and community theatres in rural regions. The more we delve into this panel and dig up stories from the participants, the more we find the two sectors have a lot in common and can share learnings and resources to help strengthen their own work.

Many of these groups find both challenge and triumph in remoteness of their locations, using theatre to bring people together and invigorate their communities creatively and economically. Espanola Little Theatre with over 55 years of experiences draws performers and board members from over 100km away including northern community of Sudbury and Gore Bay. Festival Players of Prince Edward County embraces the diversity and beauty of “the County” and hosts their shows in a variety of venues including church halls, art galleries, and even street corners, bringing tourists to parts of the region off the beaten path.

The panelists will also explore their experiences in making connections with their local community and fostering relationships that have helped grow their reach and support. Highlands Summer Festival in Haliburton is a testament to the dedication of their community performers and volunteers, with over a decade of seasons behind them. The 600-person community of Embro, Ontario turned an annual dinner theatre fundraiser into a fully-fledged company, Thistle Theatre, selling charter memberships as seed money to get the group off the ground. And at the Blyth Festival, Deb Sholdice started out as a volunteer with the company, eventually following her passion onto the Board of Directors and to her current position as General Manager of the company.

So bring your stories and experiences of theatre from your community and join Anne Mooney, Julianne Snepsts, Jack Brezina, Lisa Gamelin, Harold Arbuckle, Deb Sholdice, and I as we share a dialogue about keeping theatre alive and thriving in your rural community, about creating theatre that touches hearts and excites the mind, and about finding ways to invigorate community through producing theatre. We hope to see you there!

SPARC runs April 24 to 27 in Haliburton.  For more information on the SPARC conference, please visit

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