Dispelling the Myth: Ottawa’s Non-Existant Theatre Scene?

You may have noticed (and appreciated) of late that our Production Calendar has taken on new life.  It’s filled to the brim!  So I thought I’d take a moment to both introduce myself, as well as identify what was the impetus for this new surge of activity.  Production Ottawa was already well on its way when I walked in and offered to take on the challenge of the day-to-day drudgery of Facebook and Twitter.  And then the calendar fell in my lap.  And while keeping on top of it can leave me feeling like Sisyphus with his boulder, I felt very strongly that it was a defining moment in Ottawa’s theatre scene.

Many of you may recall a blog post from a little over a year ago by Ottawa Sun writer Denis Armstrong.  And I know many of you will recall it as evidenced by the fact that so many of you commented on it here.  It purported to be a post celebrating the creation of the Ottawa Shakespeare Company, but in fact served as an insult to existing Ottawa theatre companies, actors and the Ottawa scene in general.  It suggested that the Ottawa theatre scene was non-existent, that most of us had  up and moved to Toronto for greener pastures, and that the  remaining companies (from the sounds of it, there were only one or two of them) were accepting government hand-outs to survive.

For context, here is a reprint of this article:

Now this is a surprise. The last couple years have not been kind to Ottawa’s indigenous theatre companies (I hope you got the joke about Ottawa’s indigenous theatre companies, as if!) Many that were struggling have either closed completely, moved to Toronto, or stayed and humiliated themselves by going on welfare from the city. The result is the only good theatre in Ottawa was either at the National Arts Centre’s French Theatre, or something by Charles McFarland. The former GM at GCTC, artistic director at Third Wall and the head of theatres for Centrepointe/Shenkman and the city, is now launching his own company, Ottawa Shakespeare Company, with actor Michael Mancini and Scott Angus Wilson. Expectations are cruelly high. Could this be Ottawa’s version of Soulpepper, Toronto’s classic theatre company?

Theatre is Dead with Abby as proxy

Abby the Dog suffers the Ottawa Theatre Scene’s fate

I won’t bother to go on at length as to how erroneous Mr. Armstrong’s statement is - I think the comments posted below the article do a splendid job of that.  What I’d like to address is the real issue.  And that is that Mr. Armstrong has bought into the myth that exists about the Ottawa theatre scene; namely, that there isn’t much of one.  I’m not even sure why this myth exists.  We have several excellent theatre education programs in town, including the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College’s arts programs, as well as the Ottawa Theatre School, the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama, the Orleans Young Players Theatre School and the forthcoming Ottawa Actor’s Studio.  Would we, as a community, really go to the trouble of all that theatre education if it was simply to hand our youngsters a diploma and a McDonald’s apron?  Are we a city of sadists?

And yet this notion that Ottawa has no theatre scene - or rather that it has a weak theatre scene incapable of sustaining actors and critics alike, is a pervasive one.  So much so that anyone not in theatre is quite happy to repeat it.  But what is profoundly disappointing is that the major newspapers and critics support this opinion.  One by one, the media has backed away from covering the theatre scene with the excuse that there is nothing to report.  And this is so far from reality it’s infuriating.

It has, mind you, allowed for alternative media outlets (like Production Ottawa) to emerge and for the online theatre review community to step forward and flourish. The Visitorium (aka. Kevin Reid), for example, threw his hat into the ring as an amateur reviewer and pleasantly discovered that not only is there a vibrant Ottawa theatre scene; there is in fact too much for one person to review.  But that’s not to say he hasn’t been vocal in his disdain for the seeming abandonment by mainstream media.  In an article posted on his blog on May 7th, 2012, he did not pull any punches:

Step up, Citizen. Or at least, stop accepting all those promo tickets for opening nights (I recognize your people now), and then not bothering to review the shows.  That’s fucking PATHETIC.

It’s easy to defend the public for simply being unaware out of ignorance.  It’s much tougher to defend the mainstream media, who have access to the information and choose to withhold it as well as perpetuate the delusion.

And that was my cue to come in and do something about it.  To join the Production Ottawa team and steward the event calendar, so as to both inform the public (and the community itself, because we have a responsibility to support each other) and provide tangible proof that not only DOES Ottawa have a theatre scene - but in fact there is so much theatre that we are spoiled for choice.  Some of it may require you to be a bit more adventurous and think outside the box.  Like, say, hop in a car and travel a bit.  Within an hour of city limits there are at least a dozen rural community theatres and groups - like Rural Root Theatre Company and Theatre Wakefield.  They’re in the calendar.  In the summer, there are many opportunities for outdoor theatre - like Odyssey Theatre, Company of Fools and Bear & Co.  They’re in the calendar.  There are unique theatre venues in and around town, including bars (Club SAW), churches (St. Brigid’s), libraries and community centres.  They’re in the calendar!

The point is - Go!  Explore!  Try something new.  Try it all - the good, the bad and the ugly.  And if you have a show or go to see a show that we’ve overlooked, let us know!

Reena Belford

About Reena Belford

Reena Belford is a sometimes actress who, fuelled on lattes and manic energy, specializes in helping theatre organizations plan, develop and execute social media strategies. She is Production Ottawa's resident Tweeter, Facebooker and calendar-filler.

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