Recently, I had spent a pleasant mid-morning coffee break on a warm Sunday afternoon with Whitby Courthouse Theatre President, Ted Niles, to discuss the performing arts in Durham Region. He assures local theatre audiences the WCT 2017-2018 season will appeal to a variety of tastes and interests.
During his tenure as president, he has seen a continued movement away from the “safe” plays and musicals simply for theatre entertainment. Whitby’s astounding and haunting production of last season’s "August: Osage County", large scale musical, "Catch Me If You Can", the fresh new comedy "Things My Mother Taught Me" and the Youth Group’s "Willy Wonka" pushed the boundaries of artistic development and growth. It can be risky being so diverse, but Ted happily reports these audiences have validated the choices for this year’s selection of "Mambo Italiano" (November 2017), "Avenue Q" (February 2018), and "The Dixie Swim Club" (April 2018).
To be president of any community theatre group poses many challenges. He or she must confidently be aware of the complexities in building relationships not only within your own group, but also throughout the hometown region as well. Ted recognizes audience demographics are changing. For example, at WCT, he has noticed a shift to a multi-generational audience in attendance depending on the play, subject material and/or social issue. Hopefully, other Durham/Scugog groups have seen a similar shift.
“Community theatre groups in Durham Region need to continue to nurture and foster the growth of its members and audiences artistically and socially”, Ted explains further. “It is crucial that all companies in this Region work together. Why? The production quality of the shows in this Region are getting higher and higher, yet there are not enough skilled people around to help all groups achieve these artistic goals. Sooner or later, all groups will hit a plateau of higher quality that it will be difficult to sustain this momentum as people will begin to feel burn out and will not want to get involved.” Niles does not want to see any of this happen to the performing arts groups in this Region.
Noticeable change has occurred at the community preview at the beginning of each production at WCT. Many of the patrons that attend this preview are seniors. Today, many seniors can circumnavigate electronic devices to receive immediate information about spending their money for upcoming entertainment activities. They remember the 1960s and 1970s and would have been aware of the various life changing social issues of the day. They are far more receptive to watching controversial subject material. For example, last season’s "August: Osage County", which dealt with family breakdown, drug abuse, foul language and sexual misconduct, was well received.
Throughout its sixty-year existence and a few name changes, Whitby Courthouse Theatre strives to keep its audiences and stories fresh, invigorating and edgier. Niles’ eagerness to get involved is highly apparent as he is not simply content to be president alone. In November, he directs Mambo Italiano and will be the musical director for the February 2018 production of Avenue Q.
Finally, the Board of Directors of WCT encourages new people to get involved. Some may feel reluctance or uncertainty whether they might or might not have the necessary skills to be part of a production team. Ted Niles reminds us that community theatre is based on volunteers. WCT and other Durham Region theatre groups might have a core group of people, but they can’t do it alone anymore.
Mr. Niles wants all who have an interest in the performing arts to know, whether as participant or observer, how important and vital it is to build relationships with all people and all performing arts groups. That’s how we all feel a sense of community in community theatre.
Ticket information for Mambo Italiano, Avenue Q and The Dixie Swim Club is now available and can be purchased online at their website. Subscription packages are also available online. Individual tickets may also be purchased at the door before each show. Evening performances begin at 8 pm with some matinee performances at 2 pm. Check the website for further information or call (905) 668-8111. The Centennial Building is located at 416 Centre Street South in Whitby.