This post is part of Kitchissippi Favourites, a series of sponsored profiles about some great local businesses. You can find them all in the May 26 issue of KT.
The comments on Trip Advisor scream out rave reviews for Ottawa’s Gladstone Theatre. “Great venue!” “Neat little theatre! “Top notch!” “Such a warm and intimate space!”
Indeed it is. And a lot more! Think of it as the little theatre that could.
As season coordinator David Whiteley will tell you, what sets The Gladstone apart from both bigger or smaller venues is making great local theatre and talent accessible.
The Gladstone has been a driving force in changing the face of theatre production in Ottawa. “It’s made possible an explosion of indie theatre, with bigger productions and bigger audiences like never before,” says David.
That’s great news for people, who like David, have a palpable passion for the local arts scene.
“Now there is a guaranteed venue for smaller productions, rather than having to pray for a vacant street corner,” he laughs.
His company, Plosive Productions, was one of the first companies to launch The Gladstone on its current trajectory. In February 2011, they presented Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
“We were overwhelmed by the audience support we received for our first show. And it served as proof of the concept that independent companies could viably rent and produce shows here.”
Plosive Productions and SevenThirty Productions joined forces to take on the operation of the theatre in 2012. The partnership soon expanded to include shows by Phoenix Players, Black Sheep Theatre, Bear and Co., Vanity Project Productions, Three Sisters Theatre Company and several other independent and community theatre companies.
From its old charm foyer with white marble, old chandeliers and full bar, to its flashing marquee signage out front, there are a number of things that set this place apart from other theatre venues. For one thing, you can bring your glass of wine or beer (in real glass!) into the theatre. The cost of the theatre ticket itself won’t set you back too much. It can accommodate 235 audience members (and is wheelchair accessible) in staggered seating that gives everyone a good and close view. As such it is a more intimate setting for theatre where patrons can truly appreciate the expression on actors’ faces. The connection between audience and cast is further enhanced by the simple fact that there is no stage door. Actors and guests alike come in through the same front door. And typically on opening and closing night, everyone mingles together after the show. David says both sides value this intimate relationship which a barrier-less venue creates both through a mix of architecture and attitude.
Over the last many years, The Gladstone’s programming has become more diversified, with everything from musicals to Shakespeare to comedy to family fare. At the end of the day, the production companies involved still have to rely on box office sales. So while local theatre and local talent is the number one ingredient in almost everything they do, marketability is a huge consideration.
Currently, the Tony Award winner for best play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, is playing until June 5. “Plosive is thrilled to have The Gladstone host the Ottawa premiere of this international hit,” enthused David, who also directs the production. In classic, audience-pleasing Gladstone style, Vanya is a riotous comedy (with a touch of naughty!) that took Broadway by storm in 2013. Following on its heels will be the wildly popular Menopause The Musical, which will run for at least four weeks.
The Gladstone is a good news story for the live theatre scene in Ottawa: good for local actors, good for local producers, and good for audiences. Put that together with its location next to restaurants and cafes galore in Little Italy and it’s a great night-out formula that is hard to replicate elsewhere.
As one patron recently summed it up: “There is a feeling in this theatre of joyful enthusiasm that is contagious. Park your cynical criticism in the umbrella stand, because it won’t be welcome in this milieu. People come here to have a fun night out and they get it. For less that the price of a spaghetti dinner, you can be transported to the land of make believe by actors who are passionate about their craft.”