Raise the curtains: Live theatre returns to Drayton Entertainment venues Dec. 1

Holiday programming will see performances in St. Jacobs and Cambridge through month of December

DRAYTON – The curtains will rise once again at two Drayton Entertainment venues next month.

After a 20-month hiatus, the not-for-profit theatre organization, which operates seven venues across Ontario, is cautiously reopening its doors to offer in-person holiday productions in St. Jacobs and Cambridge in December.

Drayton Entertainment was forced last year to cancel its entire 2020 season – 20 productions on seven stages – due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Artistic Director and CEO Alex Mustakas said the past 20 months have been a difficult time for the live theatre industry, but it’s nice to finally be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“We’re just really excited to be back on stage in December in two of our theatres in a cautious opening of course,” he said.

“It’s been devastating. As an audience and as a theatre company we have really missed that live communal experience that we’ve all come to expect and there’s nothing like being in the auditorium together, breathing as one, laughing as one, crying as one, so we’ve all missed it.

“We’ve all been isolated so it’s going to be great to be able to come back together and just to experience it again.”

As part of December programming, patrons will finally have the opportunity to see A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, initially slated to be part of the cancelled 2020 season, at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse from Dec. 1 to 26.

Written by Dean Regan and starring Rebecca Poff and Wade Lynch, the tribute musical journeys through Cline’s life and features 21 of her greatest hits, including, “Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams,” and “I Fall to Pieces.”

The Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge will offer a special original production titled Back Home for the Holidays from Dec. 1 to 26.

Starring David Rogers and billed as a “joyous holiday celebration,” this show features festive favourites like “O Holy Night” and “Sleighride,” as well as inspirational songs, Broadway anthems and more.

Mustakas said the COVID-19 closure has had a negative impact culturally, economically and socially, so everyone – musicians, performers, technicians and others – are excited to get back at it.

“It’s going to be a slower recovery,” he explained.

“But we believe we’re on the right path now and not only do we know audiences are going to love our shows, but we want them to know that we are doing everything we can regarding health protocols to keep everyone safe.”

He noted Drayton Entertainment has been able to stay connected with audiences while closed, having offered virtual programming, including a 10-week series last fall, in addition to live streaming.

“The surprising thing that’s also connected our audience is our online 50/50 draws, which became our lifeline really, and that just goes to show you why do people play – one, it was fun, you have a chance to win the jackpot, two, it’s fun to see the pot grow, and three, they knew they were supporting a theatre company, a registered charity, a not-for profit organization.

“So that was really telling that people want us to do well and they can’t wait to be back.”

Mustakas said “trying to slay the pandemic dragon” has been especially difficult because it’s not just one theatre Drayton Entertainment operates, it’s seven.

He added with insurance and maintenance costs it was challenging, but the organization’s stakeholders, communities and municipalities really helped them through it.

“Our audience members really helped us as well because all along the way they said, ‘we can’t wait to be back,’ and there was always a ‘dot dot dot’ which was ‘when it’s safe to do so’ – but we believe we’re there now.”

He explained the decision to reopen was twofold. With the province moving theatres to full capacity and the implementation of a proof of vaccination policy, it provided an added reassurance that venues could open safely.

“Let’s just say I can’t wait until opening night,” Mustakas said of welcoming people back to the theatre.

“I think it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster for sure.

“We’ve missed it. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss something until you don’t have it anymore and that’s the feedback we’ve received from our audience for 20 months.”

Mustakas said the theatre wants to be able to show audiences what they’ve been missing, which is the “live communal experience.

“We’re such a big part of people’s lives and what they do throughout the year that I think it’s just going to be glorious when it all opens up.”

In terms of opening other venues, Mustakas said Drayton Entertainment is waiting to see how things go in December.

He added as of now, he will be planning the 2022 season, likely set to start in early March and go until the end of 2022, and by then all theatres will be operating. 

Health and safety protocols

Keeping in line with the province’s vaccine certificate program, all patrons will be required to provide proof of double vaccination upon arrival at the theatre, officials say.

Exceptions will be made only for those who provide proof of exemption as required by the province.

Children under the age of 12, accompanied by an adult who meets all of the requirements, are permitted into the theatre.

Masks will be mandatory for everyone inside and during performances and there will also be heightened cleaning requirements at all venues.

Although the province has expanded capacity limits for live theatres to 100 per cent occupancy, Drayton Entertainment is implementing a seating capacity of 50 per cent at select performances.

“It’s a bit of a hybrid,” Mustakas said of the show’s set up.

“Half the performances will be at 50 per cent with as much physical distancing as we can, and the others will be at 100 per cent.

“We want to give an option based on people’s comfort levels.”

Drayton Entertainment is also implementing a 2021 “holiday season worry-free guarantee” to provide flexibility to patrons who book seats for the December productions.

Audiences will be able to purchase tickets with some reassurance that if a performance is cancelled or a health concern arises, they will have a number of options available to them, including free exchange for an alternate performance based on availability, a credit on their account for future use, or a full refund for that performance.

For more details about Drayton Entertainment’s holiday productions, including performance times, health and safety protocols and more, visit www.draytonentertainment.com.

Paige Peacock