The next act

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>The Chester Playhouse building will be closed for renovations from September to November, while programming will continue at venues around town.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>A scene from last year&#8217;s production of <em>No Safe Harbour</em>, based on the book written by Julie Lawson and directed by Cynthia Myers.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>The Chester Playhouse&#8217;s origins date back to the late 1930s when the theatre was built by Ken Corkum and Eric Redden.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Lisa Gleave, Chester Playhouse&#8217;s general manager, is helping to ramp up marketing and programming initiatives.</p>

It's been at the heart of the village for nearly 80 years, and as the Chester Playhouse gears up to officially celebrate the milestone next year, it's calling out for stories from people who have one to tell about the theatre by the sea.

"Because everything you see on stage here at the Playhouse, it's people telling stories. Whether it's through song, or through plays, or a film that you see, a script that's been written. It's all stories," explains Lisa Gleave, the general manager.

"So in keeping with that theme, we want to hear people's stories of the Playhouse."

Gleave says the Playhouse board of directors recognizes the long history many villagers and people in the area have with the establishment, which, depending on which records you look at, was completed in 1938 or 1939.

"I don't know if it was completed in '38 and opened in '39, or how it works. But I mentioned to our board of directors that we had a significant anniversary coming up," says Gleave.

In any case, she notes, people have been coming to the Playhouse "since it was wooden benches and puppets.

"Folks around here have all kinds of stories about their first time at the Playhouse, the best thing they've seen at the Playhouse, something wonderful that happened because of something they did at the Playhouse."

While it's starting to accept stories now, the board is holding off on the birthday celebrations until next year to allow for the theatre to launch right into its spring and summer line-up and close the building from September through November to undertake some renovations.

There are plans to move the west retaining wall to allow for a loading dock for the theatre and a patio where theatre-goers will be able to spill out onto before the show and during intermission.

Work is also scheduled for the insulation, siding and stairway.

While the renovations are underway, the Playhouse will partner with other groups and conduct its events off-site at venues such as Chester's Baptist Church and Legion and a local school.

"We won't be able to do movies, because that's really site specific with our infrastructure, but at least once a month we're planning to do off-site partnership programming," says Gleave, adding that might attract audiences who haven't attended the Playhouse previously and "maybe provide some incentive for them to come and see us in our real home."

Gleave came on board as the Playhouse's new general manager a year ago and has been helping the board orchestrate its way through its new strategic plan.

"We're breathing new life into a lot of the programs and services and sort of switching things up a little bit in how we communicate and how we market and how we build our relationships with donors and sponsors and all that sort of stuff. That's all on the table right now. And we're flat out on the rejuvenation and the re-energizing of the playhouse on so many levels. It's huge," says Gleave.

The group is taking on a marketing summer student whose duties will include collecting the stories and putting them into an archive of sorts, which may be shared on social media, in the newsletter, and possibly in a lobby display.

Gleave says people can e-mail their stories to her to call and set up an appointment for a coffee or tea and a chat.

Plans for the actual birthday celebration next year have yet to be finalized.

"But I'm sure there will be a couple of parties, because what's a birthday without a party?" says Gleave.

In any case, there will be a chance for the community to come together and perhaps tell some of their stories, "and just really celebrate the fact we've been in the community for so long and really been a place where people gather to share experiences," she adds.

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