Audiences, sales up at P.E.I. theatres this summer

Summer 2017 was a smashing success for P.E.I. theatres, with business up by a whopping 25 per cent in some cases.

'We could have sold 50 per cent more seats'

Gracie Finley (left) and Leah Pritchard (right) starred in both of the Watermark Theatre's popular summer 2017 shows. (Submitted by Watermark Theatre)

Summer 2017 was a smashing success for P.E.I. theatres, with business up by a whopping 25 per cent in some cases.

Overall, P.E.I. saw more tourists than ever before this summer — the most recent figures show a record July, with overnight stays up 11 per cent.

It's gotta be the awareness of the quality of the theatre on the Island.— Robert Tsonos

The Victoria Playhouse sold 25 per cent more seats this season, business was up at The Guild by 15 per cent, and the Watermark Theatre said its box office revenue was up more than 22 per cent over 2016. 

"Definitely our best year ever," said The Guild's executive director Alanna Jankov, noting the past three years have seen business increase steadily. 

Why? At The Guild, a combination of good programming, the strong American dollar, and Canada 150 programming and events, Jankov believes. The musical Anne and Gilbert in its 12th season, the debut of Tara MacLean's Atlantic Blue musical revue, two children's musicals and improv theatre all did well at The Guild, topped off with sold-out burlesque shows.

'Very pleased'

"We had programming that our audience really responded to, particularly The Birds and the Bees," said Emily Smith, assistant manager at The Victoria Playhouse in Victoria, P.E.I. "Particularly at the end of the run, we could have sold 50 per cent more seats." 

The box office at The Guild in Charlottetown, home to the long-running musical Anne and Gilbert, had its 'best year ever' with sales up 15 per cent. (Guild Theatre Productions)

"We're very pleased with how the season went," Smith added. 

Victoria also had The Four Tellers, which sells every ticket, and a surprise end-of-season success with Not Quite Sherlock, a one-man show by Toronto comedian Chris Gibbs. 

At The Watermark in North Rustico, P.E.I., Barefoot in the Park and Mrs. Warren's Profession exceeded expectations, artistic director Robert Tsonos said, and audiences seemed to enjoy the balance between comedy (Barefoot) and drama (Mrs. Warren) — so much that the theatre extended the season by a week. 

Everyone benefits

But "if everybody's up, then it's gotta be the awareness of the quality of the theatre on the Island," muses Tsonos.

'It surprised us how well it did — maybe a little shocked,' says Emily Smith at The Victoria Playhouse of the one-man original show Not Quite Sherlock. (Victoria Playhouse/Facebook)

"Our goal at the P.E.I. Theatre Network is to make P.E.I. a theatre destination. Hopefully that's going to come to fruition," he said.

For the theatre in Victoria, the success of The Birds and the Bees by new Canadian playwright Mark Crawford is heartening.

"It's lovely to see a young new playwright having some success in Canada, especially somebody who sees the value in comedy," said Smith. 

'Strong ticket sales'

More tickets sold means non-profits like The Guild can keep programming into the future.

Million Dollar Quartet, starring Jefferson MacDonald, Edward Murphy, Matthew Lawrence and Greg Gale, played in repertory with Anne of Green Gables on Charlottetown's Confederation Centre of the Arts mainstage. (Berni Wood)

"Our box office is the artists of P.E.I. — it goes back into the economy," said Jankov.

P.E.I.'s largest theatre, the Confederation Centre of the Arts, doesn't comment on ticket sales until the season ends, but a spokesperson did say they'd had "a very positive response to all of our shows this season and strong ticket sales." Anne of Green Gables — The Musical and Million Dollar Quartet shared the mainstage, while Bittergirl at the Mack was frequently sold out. 


Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara has worked with CBC News in P.E.I. since 1988, starting with television and radio before moving to the digital news team. She grew up on the Island and has a journalism degree from the University of King's College in Halifax. Reach her by email at