Live theatre staging renaissance in Ottawa

The tradition of live theatre is alive and well in Ottawa and showing healthy signs of growth, in spite of a multitude of new entertainment choices available to consumers, according to local theatre operators.

NAC seeing 'huge surge' in early ticket sales for theatre season

Keilly thinks ticket sales have benefited from the recent federal election 0:49

The tradition of live theatre is alive and well in Ottawa and showing healthy signs of growth in spite of a multitude of new entertainment choices available to consumers, according to local theatre operators.

Theatres across the city have seen an increase in ticket sales, demand for more performances and a new kind of audience attending the shows.

"This year we're seeing a huge surge at the beginning of a campaign, that we haven't seen before," said the National Arts Centre's artistic director Jillian Keiley.

Keiley said in the two weeks since the NAC's new season was announced on April 5, subscription sales for the English theatre have doubled to 1,200 from 600 sold at the same time last year. 

Keiley has her own personal theory on why the box office is buzzing.  She said it's thanks in large part to the results of the recent federal election.

"I think people were nervous about their jobs before and they are not nervous in the same way."

Small theatre adding more shows

In spite of a cascade of digital programming delivered cheaply to phones, laptops and huge-screen TVs, audiences continue to fill seats in local theatres to witness actors strut and fret upon the stage. 

"Subscriptions are up over the previous year, that were up over the previous year," said Eric Coates, director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company.

Even before the curtain rose on its last two productions, popular demand prompted the company to add more shows and extend the run.

GCTC has already extended the play's run 0:29

Actors are still in rehearsal for the world premiere of Beverley Cooper's Janet Wilson Meets the Queen at the GCTC, but Coates said he is confident that play will end up in the black. 

Coates said he is seeing more young faces in the audience, the kind of people who consume artisanal bread and craft beer, along with the older subscription holders.

"People like to curate their own experience, that's the world we're living in now. So you can't walk through this neighbourhood without tripping over umpteen artisanal products, and I think live theatre is a really important part of that aesthetic now."

'We're trying to pull out all the stops'

The Third Wall's production of Woyzeck's Head opens April 22 at the Arts Court Theatre. (Stephanie Godin)

James Richardson, artistic director of the independent theatre company Third Wall, credits a young audience for keeping his theatre alive.

A few years ago the company was in financial trouble, but according to Richardson, it is now on solid footing.

He said the theatre has successfully attracted a younger audience by offering the unexpected, and small changes, such as allowing patrons to bring their drinks into the theatre.

"We're trying to pull pull out all the stops, use state of the art digital effects, sound and light to engage our audience with the stage," said Richardson.

"I think it's little things like that that make people think, 'Oh this will be fun.' You don't have to go in and sit in a stuffy chair, sit and be nice and polite, I can actually relax and enjoy and engage in it."

Richardson says theatre offers one of kind of moments for those looking for something new. 0:20