The Kawarthas is soon going to have another option for live performance when construction is completed on the new outdoor amphitheatre in Fenelon Falls, which will also be the home of the newly launched professional theatre company The Grove Theatre.
The Grove Theatre, which will produce a summer festival of live performance in Fenelon Falls, was created with the help of the Kawartha Works Community Co-operative, a collective that supports a wide range of not-for-profit initiatives that benefit the local community.
The Ontario Trillium Foundation provided the co-op with a $143,700 grant for the construction of the amphitheatre, which is currently underway, with members of the local community providing additional support.
Being built into the garden grove of the Fenelon Falls fairgrounds, the 450-seat open-air venue will host professional performances ranging from musical theatre to Shakespeare plays. Although construction of the amphitheatre was planned well before the pandemic, the outdoor venue also allows for COVID-safe performances.
The potential audience for The Grove Theatre includes the 75,000 residents in the surrounding community, along with the area’s additional 31,000 seasonal residents, as well as visitors from elsewhere in the Kawarthas and the GTA. Organizers believe the new attraction will provide a substantial economic benefit to the local community, especially Fenelon Falls.
“The idea for this project initially came through the downtown revitalization committee,” says Lynne Manning, chair of downtown revitalization for Fenelon Falls. “The arts have a proven track record for revitalization of communities.”
“The Stratford Festival began in a tent and Stratford has since become a vibrant town through the development of theatre, arts, retail and restaurants,” Manning explains. “We believe that Fenelon Falls and this area can develop into an equally vibrant arts community. There is so much potential here.”
Organizers have created a 10-year strategic plan to guide the growth of The Grove Theatre, which begins with a planned production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Musical next summer and will expand to a summer festival of three shows along with an education program for children and youth ages 6 to 17.
At the forefront of The Grove Theatre are artistic director Christy Yael and her husband Sean Cox. Yael spent her summers in the Fenelon Falls area before moving to San Diego in California, where she and Cox founded the award-winning Intrepid Theatre Company.
Collectively, Yael and Cox have 40 years of theatre experience they are bringing to The Grove Theatre in Fenelon Falls.
“For us, the initial impetus for this theatre came out of discussions around the immense growth and potential we saw in the area and the desire to create a cultural hub within the town,” Yael says.
The couple say they are looking forward to bringing exciting and innovative theatre and educational programming to a community they love. This includes fully inclusive educational programming employment opportunities for people with developmental or physical disabilities (Yael and Cox have a son who is on the autism spectrum).
“By instituting inclusive best practices in the early years, we affirm our dedication to a model that treats inclusion as standard protocol and not as an afterthought,” Yael explains.
The Grove Theatre has received strong support from the Fenelon Falls Chamber of Commerce and the City of Kawartha Lakes. The theatre’s business model is built around supporting the social, cultural, and economic development of Fenelon Falls, and will give priority use of the venue to the local community, ranging from community theatre and concerts to faith services and ceremonies.
“The space has been built with a community-first mindset,” says Tim Wisener, Fenelon Falls and District Chamber of Commerce president. “This can become a centre of community and an asset for everyone in the Fenelon area.”
“I look forward to seeing a dance recital, church service, Shakespeare play, movie, and a band all on that stage, in the same weekend. The space can become a hub for the creative life in Fenelon Falls. And as an outdoor venue, it’s an even safer place to be during COVID.”
Kawartha Works Community Co-operative has already raised $200,000 to support the initiative, according to co-op president Jim Armstrong, with a goal of raising $600,000,
“All of our co-op projects rely on community support for success,” Armstrong says.