BY ROBIN DE ANGELIS
Sudbury Theatre Centre and Theatre Cambrian have drawn loyal audiences for many decades. Recently, however, the community’s interest in theatre has deepened with the emergence of new companies and organizations which include Encore, YES Theatre, and Pat the Dog Playwright Centre. These groups point toward an ever-growing culture of art within the city.
Encore is a non-profit professional live theatre company which was first formed in May 2011. It aim is to produce edgy and exciting work with a distinctly Canadian flavour. Their 2013 mainstage season offered three unique Canadian plays: Alphonse, Lenin’s Embalmers, and The Monument. Plays are performed at the Ernie Checkeris Theatre at Thornloe University on the Laurentain University campus.
Callam Rodya, one of the founding artists at Encore as well as the company’s president and artistic director, attributes Sudbury’s growing love of theatre to a diversifying local economy and population. He believes this has led to a more well-round appreciation for arts and culture within the community.
Sudbury,” he says, “is an old mining town which is now trying to shake that image up.”
Callam has found feedback from the community to be ovehelmingly positive, something that is greatly encouraging to a young theatre company unsure of the local market. He is confident that this trend will continue, noting that as more cultural options emerge appreciation for the arts will undoubtedly grow.
Another young company, YES Theatre, opened in 2010 with its production of the acclaimed musical, Hair. The company has since wowed audiences with the likes of Rent and Spring Awakening. Its most recent offering is Jesus Christ Superstar. Like Encore, YES Theatre is a non-profit organization which seeks to showcase local talent in all areas of production. No previous experience is required, as the company offers the support of mentors and community leaders.
Founder of YES Theatre, Alessandro Constantini, feels Sudbury is beginning to realize how much art can shape and reflect us as a society, and that artists have “woken up” as a result. He is excited by how local theatre is raising the bar with challenging and difficult projects. Although YES initially battled perceptions to establish themselves as actors rather than a group of young people, Constantini notes that local reception has become increasingly enthusiastic. He says it’s all about balancing the timeless with the socially active in order to create a massive energy which will draw people in.
“People will come if you make them come, and once they are there you have to show them something they’ve never seen.”
Pat the Dog Playwright Centre is also aiming to expose the community to new and exciting things within the world of theatre. A Kitchener-based organization, Pat the Dog has been supporting Ontario playwrights since 2006. With a strong focus on advocacy for playwrights, Pat the Dog seeks to provide support for their work and the plays which emerge from that work.
Pat the Dog has partnered with a variety of playwrights, artists, and theatre companies in Sudbury. This past May the organization also debuted PlaySmelter, the first annual playwrights week featuring plays and theatre projects created in the north, which was held in Sudbury. The week consisted of a variety of professional development sessions, as well as the presentation of three plays in progress to an audience for the first time. The spirit behind PlaySmelter was the refining, or “smelting,” of creative works for the theatre.
Lisa O’Connell is the artistic director for Pat the Dog. For the past two years she has been coming back and forth to Sudbury, a city which she is especially excited about.
“There is a real hunger for discussion (here),” she says, which she found was highlighted by the enthusiastic response of both audiences and artists to PlaySmelter. As homegrown artists who initially left to study and work in major centres are now returning to Sudbury, O’Connell is confident that this enthusiasm will continue to grow.
“This is an extraordinary time for theatre in Northern Ontario,” she says.
A common denominator in the mindsets of Encore, YES Theatre and Pat the Dog is the idea of working together as companies and artists within the community. Pat the Dog embodies this sentiment in its partnerships, which include the Sudbury Theatre Centre and Encore.
Callam explains that Encore makes a strong point of fostering relationships with other local companies. Constantini echoes this, finding it encouraging to see members of other theatre companies in the audience of YES’ productions. He views other companies not as competition, but as support in drawing Sudbury further into the world of theatre.
“It’s almost like we are opening restaurants,” he explains, “offering more food and more options.”
Robin De Angelis was born and raised in Sudbury. She is a second-year Media/English student at Western University in London, Recently, her essay Shock Art was selected for publication in Premier, a first- year undergraduate academic Arts and Humanities journal.