Two Collingwood locals have set out to foster creativity in adults and nurture life's variety by putting it on a stage.
Erin McAndrew and Cassie McKell started a not-for-profit production company called Viva Variety with the mission of presenting variety shows that will give adult performing artists a stage, an audience, a paycheque, and an occasion to keep creating.
"Erin and I basically came up with this idea about a year ago when we got together and decided that there was a lack of space for performing artists here in Collingwood and South Georgian Bay area," said McKell. "We wanted to take our experience and professional expertise and do the work and put together a show where artists who are both emerging and professional could come and showcase their work and their passion."
McKell is the co-owner of Low Down, which has established itself as a venue for drag shows over the last three or four years. McAndrew has her own production company called EM Productions, and has a career in dance to draw experience from. Both are also dancers in the Collingwood-based group Vibeology.
"Erin and I are both from Collingwood, too, so we thought, as well, 'how cool would this have been ... to have something like this in our lives while we were growing up?'" said McKell.
The work of putting on a show is complex and can be expensive. McAndrew said there are financial costs like booking a theatre, paying a technician, advertising and marketing costs. That's in addition to the work of planning and contracting the venues and services required for a ticketed event.
"If you're one artist doing that, you probably can't," said McAndrew. "And you're probably driving to Toronto to do an open stage there."
Through their company Viva Variety, McAndrew and McKell are doing that work and are also getting local sponsorships and funding to offer each of the performers an honorarium.
Both McAndrew and McKell said they feel strongly about paying every performer in the show.
"We said we're not going to do this unless we do it right, and to us, doing it right is paying everyone and ... keeping our tickets at an affordable price," said McKell. Tickets for the variety shows are $25 per person.
In November, 2022, Viva Variety put on its first two variety shows at the Simcoe Street Theatre to sold-out crowds.
"I think the audience didn't know what a variety show was, really," said McKell. "And then they came and everyone's jaw just dropped. They were so impressed by the level of talent and production."
McAndrew said there were many performers in the November shows sharing their works for the first time.
"I think all of that is so magical and special, to be able to hold space for that exploration and that self-expression," she said.
Variety shows have been around for decades, but haven't been as popular with recent generations.
"Remember the Ed Sullivan Show? This is definitely taking that same concept and bringing it to today," said McAndrew.
The shows are hosted by Toronto drag headliner Katinka Kature, and they feature multiple performers doing short acts for the audience, many of which the artists haven't done for a live audience before.
The acts include dancing, singing, poetry, circus arts, aerial arts, and more.
"I would say 95 per cent of the entertainers are local here in Collingwood," said McKell.
For Active Arts owners and dancers Alyssa and Dee Service, the Viva Variety shows have "filled a void."
"So often dance, and art in general, fades from people's lives awe we get older. We go to observe, but not to live it and create it," they said in a testimonial for Viva Variety. "When you give people a chance and a platform, they will never stop creating."
Viva Variety, in opening the stage, has also helped bring together a community of adult performing artists learning about each other and connecting through the variety shows.
"People who didn't know each other before have all met and are now a part of this community that we're creating," said McKell. "It was so cool to just see everyone sitting backstage and sharing the same thoughts and value of 'I can't believe we're here and we're doing this, it's so great, the audience is amazing.' It was really inspiring."
The next Viva Variety shows will take place on June 16 and 17 at the Simcoe Street Theatre. There is a 6 p.m. and a 9 p.m. show on June 16, and a 3 p.m. and a 7 p.m. show on June 17.
In addition to ticket sales, Viva Variety welcomes support from the community in the form of partnerships. Their title sponsor for the June shows is Mike Jackson GM, and they've received support from the Town of Collingwood and Collingwood Downtown BIA.
The shows in June are for people 18 years old or older. For more information, contact details, and/or to purchase tickets, visit vivavariety.ca.