Even while apart, Theatre Collingwood is doing what it can to bring its patrons together.
The not-for-profit professional theatre company is set to host its third-annual Girls Night Out event this weekend, but this time, it will be a Girls Night In.
Theatre Collingwood has a tradition of celebrating International Women’s Day with an improv comedy show. Last year, it was the last show the company produced before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down.
But, they are not about to let the pandemic stop them from finding a way to celebrate this year, said Erica Angus, Theatre Collingwood’s current executive director.
“The way we are doing the show is interactive, so people will be able to talk during it or type into the chat,” said Angus. “I think it is going to be fun.”
The show will take place over Zoom at 7 p.m. on Mar. 6, and the theatre company has partnered with Gibson & Company to offer food and wine for patrons to enjoy during the performance, all from the comfort of their own home.
“I think it is something people really need right now,” Angus added.
The company itself was founded in 1984 by a group of people who were passionate about local theatre — most notably, Barbara Weider.
In its early days, Theatre Collingwood would produce every aspect of a performance. It started out as a community theatre, but quickly grew into a professional theatre company, known for putting on large scale productions and musicals.
“The 80s was a very exciting time for theatre,” said Angus. “But as we know, theatre is very expensive to produce.”
The recession hit the industry hard, and for years, Theatre Collingwood stopped producing shows and shifted to host various fundraising events instead.
“It’s a testament to the company, really. There was a strong guild made up of local people who put on really fun fundraising events to keep the company going,” said Angus.
In 2012, the board of directors brought Angus on board. Her role was to find ways to collaborate with other theatre companies and independent artists in the area to share production costs.
“What is really great about that is I have been able to work with all different directors from different theatre companies, which brings a broader spectrum of live performance to the area,” Angus said.
Prior to joining the company, Angus spent almost a decade working with Theatre by the Bay in Barrie. Her expertise has helped drive the company to what it is today — a presenting company that not only features some of Canada’s most talented performers, but fosters a community of artists, performers and patrons alike.
“It’s an amazing company, I think I have the greatest job in the world. I really do,” she laughed.
For years, the company was presenting the majority of its performances in the summer months, but in recent years it has been able to expand to hold productions all year long. The group doesn’t have its own physical location, but hosts shows in accessible locations all around town — from the Gayety Theatre, to churches and even at the Great Northern Exhibition fairgrounds.
Along with producing and presenting shows across South Georgian Bay, Theatre Collingwood has created strong educational programs and camps for youth. Drama programs are available to children between the ages of seven and 11, regardless of any prior experience, and are designed to introduce campers to the world of theatre.
The company works with local sponsors to ensure that money isn’t a barrier, and has created partnerships to subsidize tuition for campers if needed.
“That is a program I really love and is a great part of our company,” said Angus.
Angus said she has tried to be as innovative as possible when it comes to creating different performances and experiences people can enjoy online, but she's eager for the day when live theatre is once again in-person.
“I really think that the energy we get from a live audience has such a profound effect on a show,” she said. “People really love to see live theatre. So, we’ll be back. It will happen.”
In the meantime, the company has spent the past year putting on bi-weekly performances through Facebook Live, and continues to send a monthly newsletter to all of its patrons.
“When you work in theatre, it's a very personal relationship with people who buy tickets. Especially in a small community,” Angus said. “So we were really worried about our patrons and their sense of isolation.”
But one of the most notable things Angus has learned through the pandemic is just how dedicated the theatre-goers are.
“I really do think that Collingwood and South Georgian Bay is an area made up of really generous people who want to support each other. It’s an amazing little gem,” Angus said.
So even though the timing for the return of live performances remains uncertain, Angus is optimistic about Theatre Collingwood's future.
“I think the company was founded by people in the community that really wanted it to happen, and it’s really continued that way,” she said.