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Gateway Theatre Guild does some soul searching as it looks to grow for the next 70 years

'This upcoming season is out 70th season, and we want to see where we're going to go from here' Carri Johnson Gateway Theatre Guild president

Creative minds gathered for the second in a series town hall meetings, to generate ideas on ways to grow the Gateway Theatre Guild, and launch a successful season as it enters its 70th year of community theatre.

Two main topics of discussion during the town hall meeting centered around ways to structure its season in terms of the type and amount of shows it chooses to produce, and how to improve marketing and promotion.

“This upcoming season is our 70th season and we want to see where we’re going to go from here. In the last few years we’ve had some obstacles put in our way just because of society and because of the way things are going,” said Carri Johnson, president of Gateway Theatre Guild.

One of the biggest obstacles is finding the right venue, one that is small and intimate.

“We were very happy to be at Widdifield, then we found out Widdifield is closing, which means after our next season we don’t have a home. The theatres that are available are wonderful, but they’re very large. Really, what we would love is to have a little 200 to 250 seater theatre that could be the Guild’s, that could also be shared jointly with other groups.”

Talk also centered around establishing an identity, where the average person on the street would know the difference between the various theatre companies.

“What they’re looking at is the show, and does the show entertain them?  So, how do we rebrand Gateway Theatre Guild to be ‘the’ theatre company in North Bay? Because for years it was,” says Johnson.

“We started in 1948.  You know, we’re not a newbie on the block, but the way things have changed, the way society has changed as it comes to live theatre, is very different. Getting people out to live performances can always be tricky, and you never know if your message is getting out until the last minute, because it seems that people decide at the last minute what they’re going to do.”  

One thing that was made very clear by those in attendance, is that they want to be involved. There were “rough” years when there were not enough volunteers and people struggled to keep things afloat.

“I think the Guild has always had an ebb and flow, where it has years where it has run really well, and years where we’re struggling to find volunteers. I think volunteer burnout sometimes happens for people. Sometimes they just need to take a break,” says long time guild member Leslie Stamp.

“In terms of moving forward I don’t know what the solutions are moving forward. I think the Guild having a commercial season is a step in the right direction, to get people back. I don’t know what the magic answer is to get people filling the seats. But I think there’s a lot of really impassioned people in this group that will keep it going, and it’s great to see and it’s great to see new faces because that’s another thing this Guild needs is new faces.”   

Theatre lover Doug Bolger is interested in becoming more active with the Guild.

“I didn’t necessary love every production, but I love the fact that it’s there for me to go and decide whether I like it or not, and it keeps my love of live theatre alive. The creative depths and breadths of what they do, the quality of what they do, to me is what keeps me coming to plays and being part of the group.”

The challenge is getting other people to share that love of live theatre.

“I think we have to find ways and means of introducing live theatre again to people who may have forgotten about it with all the other options, or who may have never really come to appreciate it. One of the reasons I’m determined to get involved again is because I don’t want to see a time when it may not be around,” said Bolger.  

The Guild president sees a bright future for the theatre group. 

“I am so ecstatic about the new enthusiasm that we are seeing now. We're seeing people who used to be involved in the Guild and who are coming back, and people who have never been involved in the Guild and want to see theatre. It’s rejuvenating. Only good can come of it.” 

More follow up meetings are planned over the next few months, where specific topics will be explored, including venues.

The first of three shows, Arsenic and Old Lace, described as a murder mystery served up with plenty of laughs, runs October 31st to November 3rd .