Can Ottawa Afford to Lose One of Its Performance Spaces?

Sitting in Britannia Park, the Ron Kolbus-Lakeside Centre has remained virtually unchanged since the 1950s. No surprise then, that Bay Ward Councillor Mark Taylor has put forward a proposal to invest $1 million to redevelop the space into a more viable community centre. One hitch for Lakeside Players and other independent theatre groups — the plan effectively removes the stage and alters the performance space in the centre.

Lakeside Players, a community theatre group founded in 1990, features two to three full-length productions per year, staged at the Ron Kolbus Centre.  Their shows span a variety of genres, but they are most notable for their continued tradition of British pantomime, beginning with their first production - Aladdin, in their 1991-1992 season.

The stage in the Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre.

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The theatre company was caught off-guard by the proposed changes, only finding out about them at a production meeting for their latest show, Puss in Boots.  A message was posted to their website to advise their members and a Facebook page was immediately created in the hopes of building support and awareness.  Production Ottawa spoke via email with Harold Swaffield, President of the Lakeside Players, to discuss the expansion:

How do you see removal of the stage impacting Lakeside Players?

HS:  If it [the plan] does not [include an adequate stage/performance space], then the demise of Lakeside Players is a very real possibility.  At this time we want to do everything we can to work with Councillor Taylor and his office to come up with a mutually inclusive plan for Ron Kolbus-Lakeside Centre.

How important is theatre to Bay Ward and what role do you think it plays in the community?

HS:  We feel that theatre in general is important.  Bay Ward community involvement with the LSP has certainly been abundant.  As you can imagine, we have a wide membership community, which reaches out to many other Ottawa areas, Stittsville, Barrhaven, Bells Corners, Britannia, Vanier, to name a few.  Our annual pantomime, performed in the fall typically brings ~1000 people from the area and all over Ottawa.  [...]  Our mission is to provide affordable cultural alternatives to the community, provide members of the community the opportunity to appreciate the performance and production of Live Theatre, encourage the performance of Canadian plays and provide a venue for the development of theatrical talent within the community. Youth involvement and teaching are our priority and commitment. Some of the children of Bay Ward have grown up with us, and have become very active members of their community and within their own schools.

Do you have suggestions for alternatives to the current plan?

HS: ¬†We have spoken with Councillor Taylor about the current plan in our meeting on Tuesday July 10th. ¬†The meeting went well and was positive. ¬†We discussed other venues in Ottawa, cost effectiveness and options to the plan. ¬†With only seven theatre spaces owned by the City of Ottawa, you can imagine what the demise of this space would be, especially with two of those spaces being seasonal. ¬†Ron Kolbus-Lakeside Centre offers more than a stage. The large main hall for capacity, ceiling height and the ability to setup the room in just about any configuration makes it a “unique” space.

On Friday, July 20th, Mark Taylor’s office stated the following in a letter (posted in full on the FB page) responding to Lakeside Players’ concerns:

Councillor Taylor was pleased to meet last week with three members of the Lakeside Players, including President Harold Swaffield, to discuss our plans and discuss what their needs are so we can factor same into all the feedback our office has received about all of the different aspects of the proposal.  I am happy to say that the meet was productive and positive, and we look forward to continuing this dialogue throughout the process.

Although we are far from a final decision, it was always the Councillor’s intent to ensure stage capacity is retained while keeping centre use flexible.

The original plan (which can be found¬†here) is viewed as a ‚Äústarting point‚ÄĚ and Councillor Taylor‚Äôs office will be collecting feedback on the changes until July 26, 2012, at which point they will be putting together a second draft of the plan. ¬†The next open house, for discussion of the second draft, will happen sometime in the fall/winter of 2012 and we will continue to report updates on the redevelopment as they become available.

(You can also show your support and keep fully up-to-date, by joining the Ron Kolbus Community Centre Plan needs to include a stage community page on Facebook.)

Can Ottawa afford to lose one of its performance spaces, especially one with as unique a set-up as the Ron Kolbus Centre? ¬†Or did you even know that the Ron Kolbus Centre was in existence? ¬†Let us know in the comments below and, more importantly, contact Bay Ward Councillor, Mark Taylor, and let him know what you think of the current proposal. ¬†He can be reached at¬† Mark‚ÄĘTaylor¬©ottawa‚ÄĘca

Also in the comments, tell us about your experiences with the Ron Kolbus Centre, Lakeside Players, or any of the other performance spaces in the city so that we can include them in future articles.

Reena Belford

About Reena Belford

Reena Belford is a sometimes actress with a passion for promoting and supporting Ottawa's local theatre community. She keeps Production Ottawa's calendar (Ottawa's most complete theatre calendar) up-to-date and is a semi-regular contributor and writer.

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