This article was originally published in the 2019 Fall issue of Invest In Style Magazine.

 

Where can you catch a musical tribute to The Tragically Hip, take your bff to a male stripper parody, and see Menopause the Musical? Welcome to the historic theatres of Southern Georgian Bay.

 

 

The Historic Gayety Theatre, a landmark in downtown Collingwood, was built in 1911 as The Empire. The movie theatre was later renamed The Rex and became The Historic Gayety Theatre in 1927. It sold and reopened in 2003, this time as a theatre for live productions – although it does still show the occasional movie. The Historic Gayety Theatre boasts state-of-the-art lighting and audio, air conditioning and a sprung stage. In 2017, a renovation included the addition of a bar and lounge area that accommodates 100.

 

This fall the musical lineup for the 240-seat theatre includes a number of tribute concerts to such musical icons as Johnny Cash, The Tragically Hip, Billy Joel, CCR, and John Denver. Tickets are going fast for “The Comic Strippers,” a parody about male strippers that’s a hit with both sexes.

 

Meaford Hall Arts and Cultural Centre was built in 1909 as the town hall and opera house. The new building, called just Meaford Hall then, replaced the original town hall, built in 1864 but destroyed by fire. Over the ensuing decades the building became increasingly dilapidated and unused. In 2006, after the completion of a $6 million renovation project, the Meaford Hall Arts and Cultural Centre opened. The centre hosts theatre, live music, films and dance, as well as local community events. The renovated centre includes an intimate Edwardian opera house, with a theatre balcony.

 

The musical lineup for fall 2019 includes music tributes to the Eagles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Pink Floyd, and evenings with The Cowboy Junkies, Burton Cummings, and Murray McLauchlan. Cape Breton’s famous coal miners’ choir, The Men of the Deeps, will once again stir the hearts of appreciative audiences.

 

 

The Roxy, built in downtown Owen Sound in 1913 as the Griffin Opera House and Theatre, had a 1200 seat capacity, including balcony seating. Entertainment included live theatre, vaudeville performances and, later, silent films. In the mid-20th century it was bought by the Odeon Cinema, gutted, and reconstructed as The Roxy movie theatre. In 1986, the Owen Sound Little Theatre bought the building and, two major renovations later (including buying up the restaurant next door for additional theatre space) The Roxy’s fully-refurbished interior is now a local hub of live theatre and music.

 

The lineup at The Roxy this fall includes: The Best of the Second City sketch comedy classics from the past 50 years, Menopause the Musical, Sister Act – a feel-good musical comedy based on the 90s movie – and the award-winning Billy Bishop Goes to War, co-written more than 40 years ago by Eric Peterson (Oscar from CBC’s Corner Gas).

 

Theatre Collingwood is a 35-year-old theatre company, not a venue. But when you attend their performances this year, you’ll get an eclectic tour of Southern Georgian Bay. For many years, Theatre Collingwood was a staple at The Historic Gayety Theatre, before rent increases made that venue unworkable for them.

 

Erica Angus, Executive Director of Theatre Collingwood, says that, as a result, “we’re having a very creative year. When you don’t have an actual theatre and have to find spaces for shows, it’s a real challenge. But we had to find spaces for the shows we’d committed to.” And they did.

 

Canada’s First Lady of musical theatre, Louise Pitre, Tony-nominated for her Broadway debut in Mamma Mia!, performed in Collingwood’s First Presbyterian Church. “It was incredible, really,” says Erica Angus. “Imagine that larger-than-life character singing and talking to the audience in such an unexpected and intimate venue.” A group of women comedians had to be booked in the local legion (“which in itself was funny”). Last month, the company had to create a theatre in a ballroom at The Blue Mountain Inn, and, this fall, the Great Northern Exhibition (G&E) fairgrounds provides the venue for a tribute to the music of the Grande Ole Opry. The backdrop of the stage at this agricultural fair is, appropriately enough, a red barn. The show must go on.

 

“We’re so lucky there’s so much talent in Canada,” says Erica Angus. “There’s great professional theatre in Southern Georgian Bay. We try to provide a high level of entertainment for the local community as well as visitors from larger urban centres. A lot of coach tours come up here.” Are they looking for a permanent home for Theatre Collingwood? “Yes! And we will find one. Until then we’ll continue to tour around – but from now on, we’ll book the venue with the shows in mind first!”

 

Photo of Gayety Theatre by Jared Manchuk

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