A New ‘Compass‘ to Chart the Grand’s Future

“Our stories on our stages” – That’s how the Grand Theatre’s new Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum described his plan called Compass.  Garnhum held his first press conference this morning, after just five weeks in his new position, and the atmosphere in the Grand’s poster lounge was crackling with energy.

“This is a very exciting time for our theatre and is an incredible opportunity for London as a region to be on the forefront of theatre in Canada. These plays will have impact on the theatre community not only locally, but nationally. This is the first program of its kind for The Grand and marks a transition to Dennis Garnhum’s new vision for our theatre,” said Deb Harvey, Executive Director of The Grand Theatre.

GarnhumThe Grand has commissioned four new shows:

1. GUY LOMBARDO’S NEW YEAR’S EVE, with orchestrations and original music by Dave Pierce, book and direction by Dennis Garnhum, will have its World Premiere Spring 2019. This musical celebration of a local hero will celebrate Lombardo and his orchestra, The Royal Canadians, in a sweeping spectacle that traces his legendary rise to “Mr. New Year’s Eve.” Pierce arrived from Calgary and his collaborator Adam James came to the event from Hollywood.  Pierce brings impressive experience to this project – he will orchestrate and shape this big band celebration.  Calgary-based, Emmy award-winning Pierce regularly works in all major markets, including New York, L.A., Nashville, Toronto, and Vancouver.  He orchestrated music for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Concert Tour and Jesus Christ Superstar Gospel, and has worked with legendary entertainment producers to develop many successful projects including The Calgary Stampede’s Evening Grandstand Show, Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular featuring The Rockettes, NBC’s Macy’s Parade, and many television awards shows including the ACMA’s in USA and the Gemini Awards in Canada.  In 2010, Pierce was the Music Director and Composer for the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.  Pierce played piano accompanying James who demonstrated his skills as a crooner.

2. STARLIGHT TOURS, a musical drama with music and lyrics by Leslie Arden and book by Cathy Elliott, will be workshopped and developed in collaboration with Sheridan College’s Canadian Music Theatre Project. Garnhum said he looks forward to working with the College’s Associate Dean, Michael Rubinoff.   The production explores a clash of cultures while celebrating the strength and resilience of two young women; one Cree and one white.  Leslie Arden was on hand at the press conference to talk about her interest in bringing this horrific story to light.  The story tells how police officers in Saskatchewan treated indigenous people from First Nations around their cities.  When the indigenous people were picked up by the police for being drunk, they were driven outside the city and left to freeze to death on bitterly cold nights.  Elliott describes this as an “ugly story told in a beautiful way.”   “I look forward to working on the book and collaborating with Leslie Arden on Starlight Tours, a subject that means the world to me as an artist, a citizen of Canada, and an Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) person,” said Elliott, playwright of Starlight Tours. “I am gratified that The Grand Theatre is intent on asking the difficult questions and taking on the challenge of such a difficult story, and I look ahead to meeting that challenge head on.”

3. LONDON BRIDGES is a contemporary comedy in two acts: Act One in London, England, Act Two in London, Ontario, each written by a playwright of that region. The play tells the story of two worlds colliding during one unforgettable visit. The Grand Theatre will issue a public submission of interest/proposals for these two commissions seeking writers from Canada and England.

4. AMBROSE SMALL: An Extravagantly Musical, Mysteriously Grand Ghost Story, will have its World Premiere Halloween 2020 in celebration of The Grand’s 50th Anniversary Season. Set against the vibrant and wildly scandalous vaudeville era, Ambrose Small will invite audiences to explore the theatre as an interactive, site-specific musical adventure. This show will be directed by Dennis Garnhum with the playwright to be announced in the near future.

As well as the four commissioned works, the Grand will present the world premiere of SILENCE in January 2018, the story of Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell.  Bell connected people around the world by inventing the telephone.  But it was of little use to his wife, Mabel, who was deaf. A beautiful (and true) love story about how we communicate, by Trina Davies and directed by Peter Hinton.

Garnhum became Artistic Director of The Grand Theatre as of October 1, 2016. His writing credits include  Lost – A Memoir (Governor Generals Literary Nomination), Timothy Findley’s The Wars, and an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that has played at Theatre Calgary every holiday season for the last six years.

In addition to his 11 seasons as Artistic Director of Theatre Calgary, Garnhum has directed plays, musicals, and operas at companies across the country, including Vancouver Opera, National Arts Centre, Shaw Festival, Stratford Festival, Tarragon Theatre, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Bard on the Beach, Pacific Opera Victoria, Belfry Theatre, Neptune Theatre, and Theatre New Brunswick. His co-adaptation (with author Cathy Ostlere) of Lost – A Memoir was nominated for a 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award.


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