Walking into the Springer Theatre at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, patrons can feel they’re in for a special experience. It could be the historic lobby with its cottage-like vibe, or the sweeping verandah and docks overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the attentive customer service, the intimate theatre space where you’re sure to see a neighbour, or even sipping a drink at intermission while embracing the evening peacefulness of the water.
It’s a certain magic that lends itself to memories and the start of summertime stories. Patrons settle into the atmosphere and lose themselves among the professionally-crafted characters and classic plots in this seasonal theatre experience set gracefully alongside the St. Lawrence River in South Eastern Ontario.
Known as Canada’s dockside theatre, The Playhouse is returning better than ever after a two-year hiatus in regular programming. Brett Christopher, Managing Artistic Director at the Thousand Islands Playhouse, said the upcoming season marks the Playhouse’s 40th anniversary.
“After two difficult years, the ‘intermission’ is officially over and we’re back with a total of eight productions full of warmth and laughter, song and dance, to help remind audiences of the wonderful experience of being together,” he said. “As with any big milestone, it’s a wonderful moment for reflection on the company’s legacy and the limitless future that extends from here.”
Its award-winning reputation stems from humble roots. The history of the Thousand Islands Playhouse dates back to the early 1980s when young actors pulled together with community groups to purchase the space of the former Gananoque Canoe Club. Over a whirlwind few months, they turned it into the unique Springer Theatre venue – one that allows the audience to mingle on the shoreline of the stunning St. Lawrence River during intermission.
The Firehall Theatre was added to the mix in 2004, reimagining a nearby historic fire hall and police station to offer a contemporary venue to the Playhouse sphere. The Firehall provides a black box theatre setting with no permanent seating and stage arrangement. This flexibility allows the Playhouse to stage more modern shows and take more risks with an adaptable performance space, making it exciting from a design perspective.
Today, it has evolved into a two-venue, eight show non-profit theatre. Christopher said the Thousand Islands Playhouse is the biggest arts organization in the region, employing more than 150 arts workers annually who strive to keep theatre as an important cultural and economic driver. What’s more, upwards of 40,000 attendees take in shows annually at the venues. The Playhouse is well-known on the national theatre scene and considered one of the top-five summer theatre festival experiences in the province. Audiences have come to expect strong talent of high-calibre artists who bring to life comedy, drama, music and song on stage.
Season Set For Making Memories At The Theatre
“Over the last decade, the Playhouse has really established itself not just for the stunning beauty of its location but also for the breadth of the programming,” Christopher said, noting this season there’s something for everyone on the bill.
“Audiences can expect to enjoy jukebox musicals, intimate cabarets, laugh-out loud comedies, and even the best of Broadway. Everything is built from the ground up here in Gananoque and the artistic talent is flown in from across the country to ensure that the quality of our plays is on par with those in the major urban centres.”
The 2022 season will see five shows at the Springer Theatre and three at the Firehall Theatre.
The Springer will be hosting:
- “Back in ‘59” from May 26 – June 11;
- “Perfect Wedding” from June 17 – July 10;
- “The Music Man” from July 19 – August 20;
- “Kim’s Convenience” from August 26 – September 18, and
- “Jersey Boys” from September 27 – October 23.
At the Firehall audiences can look forward to:
- “Hey, Viola!” from June 30 – July 16;
- “Every Brilliant Thing” from August 4 – 21, and
- “Honour Beat” from September 8 – 25.
Alongside enchanting programming and location, comes an element of audience loyalty that is almost tangible here. Dedicated theatregoers ascribe to the magic at the Playhouse and attend every year from across Canada and the United States.
“If I had to really distill why we have had this sort of success, I believe it starts and ends with the way we treat people,” Christopher said, noting he’s seen great theatre across this country, but the Playhouse’s customer service is exemplary. “Our staff care very deeply for our visitors. We understand that there are lots of choices for entertainment dollars – now more than ever – and we ensure that our guests know how grateful we are that they chose us. Generosity of spirit, empathy, kindness – these are the core beliefs of our organization, and it radiates through our venue.”
After Curtain Call
The Playhouse doesn’t stop at staging its summer programme. Throughout the season, the Springer Theatre plays host to world-renowned classical musicians in its popular concert and conversation series, Studio ‘S’. Recently, the Playhouse also implemented a Community Connection program, so even more people can engage with the arts. Christopher said it comes down to their belief that everyone deserves access to theatre so they can witness the transformative power of performing arts.
“The program is designed to overcome economic or social barriers and offer disadvantaged or marginalized members of our community who would not normally attend the arts, the opportunity to do so,” he said, noting they are excited to collaborate with community organizations to offer hundreds of complimentary tickets to the community. I’m really looking forward to seeing new faces enjoying a show at the Playhouse for the first time in 2022. It’s not about building a future audience, it’s about doubling down on our belief that the arts can be life-changing and that everyone deserves that chance.”
The future is ripe with ideas at the Playhouse, with new docks being constructed and exciting plans in the works for a major renovation of the shoreline and outdoor spaces. In 2021, the Playhouse revealed drawings that gave a sneak peek at the changes, including the full de-paving of a shoreline parking lot and its transformation into a public greenspace.
Christopher said this is the first phase of a major reconsideration of the site as a social centre for the region and provincial arts hub, with the intention of creating a space that can be vibrant for visitors both day and night.
No matter what comes next, Christopher said the Playhouse will continue to offer its trademark uniquely Canadian experience: sitting on a dock, drinking a glass of wine with your feet in the water, looking out over the 1000 Islands, revelling in the intimate atmosphere, and enjoying high-calibre programming to match the venue.