Council passed the 2011 budget at the end of last month. Among the last minute changes was the re-reinstatement of a donation, approved by the previous council, to assist with the hosting of the Western Ontario Drama League 2011 festival at the Palace Theatre in Old East Village. That festival opened last night. Thanks to the city for its support! Thanks to the Drama League for bringing this fine entertainment and tourism to London!
Since it is March break and there are no council meetings, this is a great time for a little bit of “play.” Yesterday, I described the fun we enjoyed at the Grand Theatre, our jewel in Downtown London.
In this city, we are fortunate to have such beautiful heritage buildings for theatrical venues: the Grand, The Aeolian Hall, and the one I attended last night, the Palace Theatre.
Built in 1929 as a theatre for “talkies”, the Palace was hailed as "one of the finest and most complete establishments of its kind not only in London and Western Ontario but in the whole of Canada". It had the latest in heating and projection equipment and was beautifully and ornately decorated in gold and brown. It had a drinking fountain in the lobby (no plastic bottles) and storage space for baby carriages and bicycles. It also had a special ladies lounge for women with small children who might otherwise interrupt the show! It all sounds very contemporary.
In 1951, the theatre, having become somewhat rundown, was renovated and re-opened as the Park Theatre showing movies until 1989 when it closed. Some of you may recall attending films there. If I remember correctly, that was where I saw Ben Hur. It was vacant when it was purchased in 1990 by the London Community Players (LCP), an amateur theatre group which formed in 1974 after the original London Little Theatre turned professional and became the Grand.
LCP had been performing in the Gallery Theatre (renamed the London Community Playhouse) on York Street across from Michael’s on the Thames and had been considering renovating that rather small and primitive building when the purchase of the Park was suggested. The proposal was controversial, as members feared that restoring and maintaining the 350 seat building would claim all the resources of the group and divert attention from performance. However, the building at 710 Dundas Street East was purchased and its original name reclaimed.
In 1991, the front portion of the building and the facade received a heritage designation. Since then, the LCP, with the assistance of some government grants and private donations, have been tireless in their efforts to restore the building to its original beauty and to make it functional for the production of live performances. The results have been remarkable and the efforts are ongoing.
In addition to the six productions put on by the LCP each year, the Palace Theatre hosts many community events and musical theatre. Most recently, it hosted an original art show and silent auction fundraiser for the Unity Project, a shelter for homeless persons.
What took me to the Palace Theatre last night was the Western Ontario Drama League, an organization that has brought together amateur theatre groups from Windsor to the Niagara Region and beyond, and to Tobermory in the north. It was holding its 2011 festival consisting of the five plays that have made it to the finals. They will be adjudicated by internationally known, award winning Canadian playright and teacher, John Lazarus.
This event brought more than 200 Londoners and visitors from around the region to enjoy a play every day for the week. The first offering was There Goes the Bride, a British farce by Ray Cooney and John Chapman. Put on by the Aylmer Community Theatre, the acting was convincing with the precise timing and energy that make this type of play a delight to the audience. Having just had to learn a few lines for last weeks play at the Grand, I really appreciated how much talent and rehearsing must have gone into that performance.
Four more plays are in the offing from Tuesday to Friday: Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (not a comedy, I fear) by Theatre Windsor; Fallen Angels, a Noel Coward comedy from Theatre Sarnia; Night of the Iguana, a Tennessee Williams drama performed by Theatre Kent; Caught in the Net, another Ray Cooney farce by the Kincardine Theatre Guild.
So for March break, you can get your fill of really excellent live theatre in a beautifully restored building for only $22. A bonus is the comfortable seating, newly restored, and the plentiful legroom. Lots of parking, too, much of it free or only $2 in the city owned lot.
For more details, check the Palace Theatre website.
Tomorrow it will be back to the political stuff.