Celebrations at Huron Country Playhouse!

Ice sculpture celebrating new Playhouse
Ice sculpture celebrating new Playhouse

Congratulations to Drayton Entertainment for the many improvements at Huron Country Playhouse! The celebrations continue with the opening of the brand new Playhouse II.

Last look at the old barn on the left.
Last look at the old barn on the left.

The new construction coincides with the 40th season celebration, and the list of improvements is significant:

· New seats in Main Stage theatre.

· All new Playhouse II: instead of a 150 seats in the old barn, it is now a substantial 300-seat theatre – but there is still unfinished business. Work crews will be back every Monday to paint, lay carpet, add acoustic tiles, etc.

· New grass in yard – it literally appeared over night. But I heard from one group that the picnic tables are missed. Maybe those will appear overnight, too.

· New box office – the old shed is gone.

· New reception area, bar and gift shop – high ceiling, beautiful tiled floors. It’s lovely, but not as cosy as the old barn, where the doors were always open.

· New washrooms – and this is possibly the best asset when compared to the old facilities. The ladies room is wonderful, adorned with big bright bouquets of flowers, no less!

· Residence for actors

I believe the old farm house once provided a place for actors to live. Later some of the cabins from The Wondergrove, once located behind the old Roller Rink (now J.D.’s) were moved to the playhouse site to be used as actors’ living quarters. The farm house also housed the gift shop before it was taken down years ago.

The box office came down last November
The box office came down last November

I remember the early years of Playhouse II: at one time it was set up cabaret style, with chairs around small tables. Over the years, the stage was moved from one end to the other during a remodelling. In its last incarnation it seated about 150 people in chairs, on a flat floor with a small stage.

Originally the barn was intended to be the theatre, 40 years ago. But founders James Murphy and Bill Heinsohn discovered it wasn’t going to work, so instead, a tent was erected to house the early seasons. The barn was used as rehearsal space before Playhouse II opened.

I was a high school student working in the Tourist Information office in Grand Bend (it was located where the PUC office is now.) James Murphy would stop by and offer me tickets to the shows, so that I could talk to visitors about the new theatre.

This was pretty exciting – The only live theatre I had ever attended was the Stratford Festival to see Romeo and Juliet, so this was my first experience with comedies and mysteries on stage! I have a vivid memory of sitting in a tent full of folding chairs– the tent was right alongside the barn, so the barn could be used as the back stage. Gravel had been brought into the barnyard to support the tent, and the ground was sloped toward the stage, to give better sightlines from the folding chairs. On one particular night, it was pouring rain, and water was flowing in rivulets through the gravel toward the stage. We sat with our feet up on the chair in front of us to avoid getting them wet. Fortunately the chairs were more than half empty, so all theatre goers were able to have their feet up! And while I have this clear memory of the rain flowing under the tent, I can’t tell you what the shows were that first season.

I do have memories of working at the Tourist Information Booth in Grand Bend – and no, I didn’t have any Americans show up with their skis on the car roof, but I remember one couple spreading out the Ontario map and asking me how far they would have to drive to see snow!

Frequently, visitors made requests for accommodations “with indoor plumbing”. I’m pretty sure all the motels in Grand Bend had abandoned their outhouses by the seventies! I suspect I rolled my eyes when I heard that one!

And when people came in looking for “something to do”, I’d tell them we had a drive-in theatre and a live theatre nearby. Drive-in movies they understood, but when I said live theatre, they would respond with something like “you mean an indoor theatre” as opposed to the drive-in, assuming it was movies. “No, it’s actually in a tent, and it’s live actors,” I’d reply. “Shakespeare?” was the next question. If they were Canadians, the Stratford Festival was probably all they’d ever heard of. American tourists “got it” – they were more familiar with summer stock. I think a handful of summer visitors made their way out to the new Huron Country Playhouse from the Tourist Information office.

New Playhouse II under construction
New Playhouse II under construction

Today, they go in big crowds. With 660 seats in the main house at Huron Country Playhouse, and another 300 in the new Playhouse II, that’s nearly 1000 people going down the B Line eight times a week!

New Playhouse II on left, main theatre on right.
New Playhouse II on left, main theatre on right.

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