After shutting down last year due to the pandemic, members of Port Burwell Periscope Playhouse are thrilled to move forward with their 2021 season.
The performing arts theatre has recently acquired a $3,500 mobile event trailer to host theatrical and musical performances.
“Other organizations have been thrown the same curveball. We thought, ‘Okay, well, how can we manage this, and survive, and grow at the same time?’” said Periscope Playhouse Vice President Karen Bechard.
“We have to give the volunteers of the playhouse kudos for thinking ahead and pushing the organization,” added Board of Directors President Pete Matthews.
Periscope recently obtained site plan approval for the outdoor theatre arrangement from Bayham council at a March 18 meeting.
The trailer will be placed in the 120-feet-long by 45-feet-wide backyard of the 42 Wellington Street property.
This yard will become an outdoor venue where six-feet physical distancing can be maintained between theatregoers. The space can accommodate about 80 spectators, along with about 10 volunteers, which is safely under the current (orange) provincial outdoor crowd capacity of 100.
A tree was cut down, and a shed was moved to prepare for the outdoor venue. There will be black fencing installed around the perimeter.
The building will remain available for washrooms and refreshments, with strict COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place. There will be directional markers to indicate traffic flow, masks required, and an accessible ramp to reach the outdoor venue.
A disinfectant “fogger” machine will also be used in the building, on chairs and other “high-touch” areas, before and after events. The sanitizing solution in the fogger kills viruses, fungus, mold and mildew.
There will be some room for parking, with the possibility of other parking spots at the neighbouring Port Burwell Legion building.
Periscope Playhouse has also been in talks with members of their local Legion branch for the possibility of a show and meal package, which they have offered in the past.
“If the Legion wanted to do a hot dog or hamburger barbecue, they could supplement when we’re having a show, then they’re going to be generating some revenue for their purposes as well,” said Ms. Bechard.
“We’re in discussions with their board, but we haven’t finalized anything yet.”
The first event in the new space is scheduled for May 29 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., where two St. Thomas-based musicians, Smokin’ Dave and John Milles, will play in the trailer. Tickets will be available online.
Periscope is also making plans for other shows and music events, including a Rocky Horror Picture Show night. They felt tha a movie screening event like this could go quite well while still abiding by COVID-19 protocols.
“It’s easy to maneuver while still maintaining distance,” noted Ms. Bechard. “It’s not actors on the stage; it’s a viewing, while still allowing the audience to participate from their seat.”
It is hoped to be a successful comeback after a challenging year for Periscope Playhouse. On top of the season cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the building’s basement flooded in July 2020.
“We lost all of our props, all of our furniture, and most of our costumes,” said Mr. Matthews. He added they were planning an addition to the theatre for safer storage space.
The Aylmer Area Community Foundation gave the theatre a $2,750 grant in November, and Elgin County awarded $6,388 in January. The funding went to prepare for the coming season, including the purchase of the disinfectant fogger.
They have also been hosting fundraisers to support the new outdoor venue, including a pie auction with an Easter basket bonus.
Periscope has also recently obtained charitable status, and can now give tax receipts for donations.
The outdoor venue will run until October 11. Periscope Playhouse hopes to resume with their indoor events after that time. Their season runs typically all year long, with a short break in the summer.
The playhouse has also applied to the Alcohol Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) to amend their current liquor license to include the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the new temporary outdoor venue. Bayham council also expressed their support for this application.
Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express