This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s theatre scene—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Cameron Bishop on the future of community theatre in Ottawa, or read posts from Jacqui Du Toit on storytelling, Bronwyn Steinberg on independent theatre, or Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard on French theatre.
Cameron Bishop is the volunteer Director of Publicity with Kanata Theatre. A resident of the National Capital Region for over 20 years, Cameron grew up in Fort McMurray, Alberta. He’s been on stage twice at Kanata Theatre, first as Mortimer Brewster in the 2018 production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” and then as Richard Rich in the 2019 production of “A Man for All Seasons”. In his professional life, Cameron is a public affairs expert with a background in politics and health policy.
Apt613: What is the landscape of community theatre in Ottawa?
Cameron Bishop: It’s definitely a tight-knit community—it’s not uncommon for an actor or actress, that has a “home base” at Kanata Theatre, to perform at Rural Root Theatre Company, Ottawa Little Theatre, Shenkman Arts Centre, The Gladstone or even the Studio Theatre in Perth. If there is a show being performed, and if you are an individual who loves theatre, there’s a better than even chance you’ll be either out for an audition or volunteering on a crew at a show in a local company.
If you care to make a prediction… where is community theatre going in Ottawa in 2021?
At Kanata Theatre, it will be a more low-key year as we adapt to the changes brought in by the pandemic. That means smaller audiences, a show-by-show approach to the season versus a sure-bet full run of six shows as is our norm, and an eye to a more normalized environment in 2022 and beyond. That said, despite the fact that the pandemic has changed so many things—and shuttered our theatre’s doors for the past year—there is palpable excitement among Kanata Theatre’s membership, subscribers, and volunteers to get back on stage, to start moving forward and to once again roll out fantastic shows for theatre-lovers. I suspect that that will be the case for other theatre groups across our region. We all want to get back to normal as soon as possible but, in the interim, we also have to adapt to the new normal.
Where in your wildest dreams could Kanata Theatre grow in your lifetime?
I think it’s safe to say that, in so many respects, Kanata Theatre’s “wildest dreams” have already been realized!
Kanata Theatre began in 1968 as a play reading group in a sleepy bedroom community (Kanata) that at the time consisted of only a handful of houses, one public school, two gas stations, a post office and an A&P grocery store. There are now over 250 members, who, prior to the pandemic, put on five main-stage plays and a children’s holiday play each year. In any one year, there may be additional productions for training or experimental purposes. Members receive a newsletter giving information about Kanata Theatre activities and the times and places of general meetings and of auditions.
We are fortunate that over 50 years later we still get to live those dreams, on stage in the beautiful Ron Maslin Playhouse, performing for audiences of all ages. That’s pretty special!
What is the best innovation to take place in theatre since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?
I have to give full credit to the amazing folks at Rural Root Theatre Company in Constance Bay who have had virtual play readings, virtual auditions and virtual shows over the course of the last year. That takes commitment and ingenuity—both of which they have in spades. By doing those types of activities they have kept their patrons engaged and entertained over the last 12+ months; they really managed to fill a void for those who love the theatre but were unable to see any fresh, new, live shows because of the pandemic. Rural Root hosted two virtual performances and they had hundreds of people tune in—that’s a credit both to the talent and the innovation of the theatre company.
Who is the future of community theatre in Ottawa?
The future of community theatre is, as the term suggests, the community itself. We have scores of talented people around the Ottawa region, of all ages, whose contributions will sustain community theatre for generations to come. However, we need to see more engagement from community members, especially young people, to ensure the dynamism, creativity and excitement that comes with live performance continues for another 50+ years. Indeed, part of the reason why Kanata Theatre runs youth programs at the Ron Maslin Playhouse is to help build the next generation of actors and actresses; to help them reach deep to realize their potential and talent; to instill in them the confidence it takes to be part of a show (either as a cast or crew member); to help them explore their ideas and creative energy and to foster a love of all things theatre. By doing that we can ensure the long term health, sustainability and contribution of community theatre in the national capital region.
Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career in community theatre?
I suspect it might be different depending on which theatre company you call home, but at Kanata Theatre—which is an all-volunteer theatre company—it’s the amount of work, dedication and drive it takes to not only put on every show, but to keep the Ron Maslin Theatre in tip-top shape. It’s a commitment these volunteers undertake because they love what we do, how we do it and what it means to the cultural contribution in the national capital region.
Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on Apt613.ca.