You can even reserve a boat slip with your theatre ticket at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque. The Playhouse operates two fully renovated historic venues side-by-side on the banks of the St. Lawrence River near Kingston: the 360-seat Springer Theatre and the 140-seat Firehall Theatre. Enjoy a drink on the deck overlooking the water during intermission. (Photo courtesy Richard Kelland)

Coming to a cottage near you:
Ontario summer theatre returns with exciting ineup

Lazy days at the beach. Wine tours. Backyard barbecues. Fishing. Antiquing. Picnics. Art in the park. Hikes.  Roadside fruit stands.  

Sound like summer?  

For many people, summer isn’t complete without at least one enjoyable afternoon or evening laughing or crying while watching live theatre. Add in some fabulous waterfront views and that day at the theatre just got even better.  

Summer theatre is alive and well in Ontario. It’s good to know there is a healthy appetite for Shakespeare by the Avon, Humber and St. Lawrence rivers. And for Norm Foster’s brand of comedy from Georgian Bay to Grand Bend to the Ottawa Valley and everywhere in between. Ditto for Broadway and Bach and Big Band Legends.  

No matter where you travel this summer, you’ll never be far from live theatre. Grand Bend. Penetanguishene. St. Jacobs. Campbellford. Bobcaygeon. Prescott. Collingwood. Gananoque. Petrolia. You don’t have to go to the big city for professional theatre anymore. It’s as close as the cottage. 

Summer comes early in theatre country, however, so don't wait until the last minute or you'll miss the season’s early offerings, which sell  out fast. So go on, book your tickets for Stratford, The Shaw and Blyth. Then add two or three new venues to your list, including the new Dunfield Theatre along the Grand River in Cambridge, which opens its inaugural season this year.  What better way to pay tribute to all those actors and writers and set designers than to reserve a seat for the performance?

Many of the theatre companies on our list are located in waterfront communities. Others are but a short drive away. All will help make your spring/summer the best ever. 


Blyth Festival
431 Queen St.  
Since 1975, the Blyth Festival, located near Goderich, has been bringing Canadian tales of intrigue, romance, history and comedy to life in the historic Blyth Community Memorial Hall in the charming rural village.  The hall boasts 444 seats, with free parking on side streets and in the lot beside the CIBC across the road from the theatre.      


Globus Theatre
RR2 2300 Pigeon Lake Rd.  
Located just outside the waterfront village of Bobcaygeon, Globus Theatre is headquartered at the Lakeview Arts Barn, known as The LAB. As well as six main productions, Globus also presents one-nighters, featuring some of Canada’s hottest shows and comedy acts, as well as children’s shows and workshops featuring music, magic and puppetry. To complete your theatre experience, the LAB also offers a three-course table d’hôte menu, depending on the performance.      


Rose Theatre Brampton Summer Theatre
1 Theatre Lane  
The Rose Theatre Brampton offers a variety of live performance — from plays to concerts to improv — with seating for more than 800 for mainstage events and for 100 in the more intimate studio. Parking is always free in the evening on show days. While you’re at the Rose, drop by the art gallery to see what locals are up to.      


Dunfield Theatre Cambridge
46 Grand Ave. S.
Located in historic downtown Galt along the Grand River in the city of Cambridge, the Dunfield Theatre is the newest member of the Drayton Entertainment family, which has made its new multimillion-dollar facility its administration and production headquarters. The state-of-the art facility, which boasts world-class acoustics and excellent sightlines, seats 500 patrons. The theatre opens its first season with the musical Mary Poppins.     


Westben Arts Festival Theatre
6698 County Road 30  
Westben, a 400-seat timber-frame barn that opens into a lush meadow surrounded by the Northumberland Hills, is the location for world-calibre performances in a relaxed country setting. The stage hosts a wide variety of renowned Canadian and international artists, from full symphony orchestras and choruses to chamber music and soloists. Enjoy everything from opera to world jazz music, Bach to Broadway. As its primary series, Westben presents Concerts at The Barn every summer from late June throughout July. Other colourful events include musical wine-tasting and Viennese balls.       


Theatre Collingwood
161 Hurontario St.  
The Gayety Theatre in historic downtown Collingwood is home to Theatre Collingwood during the summer; the company performs at various locations throughout the Georgian Triangle the remainder of the year. Renowned for quality productions of outstanding literature, Theatre Collingwood is a professional non-profit producing theatre company rooted in the community since 1984.         


Drayton Festival Theatre
33 Wellington St. S.  
The Drayton Festival Theatre, a member of the Drayton Entertainment family, has been entertaining in the rural countryside for more than 20 years. Located in a historic 1902 Opera House that contains 375 seats, the theatre boasts fantastic acoustics with a main floor and balcony.      


Thousand Islands Playhouse
South and Charles Streets  
Thousand Islands Playhouse operates two fully renovated historic venues side-by-side on the banks of the St. Lawrence River near Kingston: the 360-seat Springer Theatre and the 140-seat Firehall Theatre. Enjoy a drink on the deck overlooking the water during intermission. Theatre-goers attending shows at either the Springer or Firehall may reserve a boat slip by calling the box office. This professional theatre is rated one of the Top 5 summer festivals in Ontario.     


Huron Country Playhouse
RR1, B Line
Located in a picturesque country setting, the Huron Country Playhouse is just minutes from the shores of Lake Huron in the heart of Ontario’s West Coast.  In 2011, the Playhouse, a member of the Drayton Entertainment family, celebrated its 40th anniversary with a $4-million makeover. Enjoy new washrooms, lobby, refreshment bar, box office and gift shop. The air-conditioned theatre can seat 660 patrons.

Playhouse II
RR1, B Line
Located on the same property as the Huron Country Playhouse, theatre-goers are treated to an intimate second stage in the Playhouse II, which boasts a state-of-the-art experience in a comfortable 300-seat auditorium. There are another three plays showing here, and the new gift shop to browse.


Highlands Summer Festival
5358 County Road 21  
Using the facilities of the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion at the local high school, Highlands Summer Festival has been a favourite in Haliburton for more than a decade. This season, it offers up five shows each year.         


Century Church Theatre Company
Trafalgar Road and Station Street  
The theatre occupies the century-old Hillsburgh Community Christian Church on Trafalgar Road, right in the heart of the village. Furnished in antique elm, with excellent acoustics, Century Church Theatre offers intimate charm. There’s on-site parking for cars and buses. Along with plays, there's comedy and music, including gospel night.   


4th Line Theatre
Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line  
If you love nature, you’ll love 4th Line Theatre, which stages its plays outdoors. The barns of the old Winslow Farm serve as the backdrop, the setting summer sun as the stage light, and the surrounding meadows as the ever-expanding set. Committed to preserving and promoting our Canadian cultural heritage, 4th Line Theatre, located near Peterborough, stages regionally based historical dramas with national echoes.   


Upper Canada Playhouse
12320 County Road 2  
Upper Canada Playhouse, a professional theatre company located  in the quaint village of Morrisburg on the scenic St. Lawrence River near Cornwall, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with some very special treats, including four comedies never before seen at the beloved theatre. There’s not a bad seat in the intimate playhouse, which seats 265 and boasts new comfortable seats for its anniversary. Norm Foster comedies are fixtures here.  Combine your theatre outing with one of the area’s famous country suppers, held at a local church hall or the Legion.       


Shaw Festival
10 Queen’s Parade
26 Queen St.
85 Queen St.
The Shaw Festival, which celebrated its 50th season in Niagara wine country in 2011, is hailed for its vivid productions of plays by Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries (1856-1950), and plays about the period of Shaw’s lifetime. Plays are presented in four distinctive theatres: the Festival Theatre, The Shaw’s flagship theatre; the historic Court House Theatre, a National Historic Site dating from the 1840s; the Royal George Theatre, modelled after an Edwardian opera house; and the Studio Theatre, a new 200-seat theatre located in the Festival Theatre building. All theatres are within a short walking distance of each other, so you can see one show after another without missing a minute!       


Orillia Opera House
West and Mississaga Streets  
The Orillia Opera House boasts a dedicated summer theatre bill, along with plays and concerts throughout the year. The venue is the Studio Theatre at the magnificent Opera House, first built in 1895 to house municipal offices, an auditorium, a market and the local lockup.       


King’s Wharf Theatre
97 Jury Drive
Nestled within Discovery Harbour on Georgian Bay, the King’s Wharf Theatre is a rustic, 385-seat venue that offers all the comforts of a modern facility.  There are four productions on offer this season, including the ever-popular Oliver! Flanked by the historic buildings of a 19th-century British naval and military base, the theatre, part of the Drayton Entertainment family, is located at the end of a boardwalk that looks on to the home port of replica ships H.M.S. Bee and H.M.S. Tecumseth.   


Classic Theatre Festival
13 Victoria St.  
The Classic Theatre Festival, Ottawa Valley’s professional summer theatre company, presents the classic hits from the golden age of Broadway and the London stage at the Mason Theatre. There’s seating for 165 in the air-conditioned theatre, located in the heart of heritage Perth, part of the Rideau Canal route.       


Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
411 Greenfield St.  
Victoria Playhouse near Sarnia serves up professional summer theatre with emphasis on music and comedy. The venue is the now-modern 425-seat air-conditioned Victoria Playhouse located in Victoria Hall. The historic Playhouse was rebuilt after a fire destroyed it in 1989.            


Lighthouse Festival Theatre
247 Main St.  
Lighthouse Festival Theatre, located in the former town hall, which opened in 1906, provides year-round live entertainment including professional theatre and concerts.  Expect high-quality productions of Canadian scripts in the air-conditioned hall, which seats 350.    


Port Hope Festival Theatre
20 Queen St.  
The acoustically superb, 1930s-era Capitol Theatre is the perfect venue for live theatre productions, especially since its recent renovation, complete with new, comfortable seating. There are musical performances all year, along with summer theatre, right in the heart of historic Port Hope.          


Port Stanley Festival Theatre
302 Bridge St.  
The Port Stanley Festival Theatre is a 150-seat theatre located in the former Town Hall building on the north shore of Lake Erie at the heart of the village, known for its exclusive shops and restaurants.  Since 1992, the theatre has been providing summer theatre that highlights Canadian works in drama, comedy and musical-comedy, along with other celebrated works.      


St. Lawrence Shakespeare Theatre
Water Street West  
Pack up your picnic and head down to the Kinsmen Amphitheatre at the harbour along the St. Lawrence River in historic Prescott to experience Shakespeare in the great outdoors. Bring a folding chair, blanket or cushion with you, or come early and get one of a limited number of folding chairs and cushions available to rent.  In addition to the mainstage events, the Festival produces a number of complementary activities, such as the Sunday Series and a week-long Young Artists Training Program, giving local youth the opportunity to work with actors from the Festival.     


Festival Players of Prince Edward County
Various locations  
Festival Players of Prince Edward County, formed in 2006, produces an entirely Canadian season of plays, including new works. The high-calibre professional theatre travels to various rural communities across the County, with stops this season to be announced. 


St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre
11 Albert St.  
Set in a renovated 1867 village schoolhouse in the heart of Mennonite country, St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre professional theatre is high on charm.  With only 100 seats and remarkable acoustics, the intimate atmosphere lends itself to cabaret-style performances, where you can enjoy a beverage at your table that’s positioned just a few feet from the stage. The theatre is another member of the Drayton Entertainment family. Enjoy four performances from August to December, including three weekends of comedy.    

St. Jacobs Country Playhouse
40 Benjamin Rd. E., Waterloo  
The St. Jacobs Country Playhouse is located at the northern edge of Waterloo, in the heart of St. Jacobs’ Market District. A member of the Drayton Entertainment family, the Country Playhouse features turn-of-the-century masonry and heavy timber accents associated with traditional Mennonite architecture. No matter where you sit in the 385-seat theatre auditorium, you’re guaranteed a great view of the stage. 


Stirling Festival Theatre
41 West Front St.    
Stirling Theatre has been offering live, professional entertainment year round for more than a decade. The theatre’s home, built in 1927 as a “community service” building, was saved from the wrecking ball by a group of citizens who banded together to create The Stirling Performing Arts Committee. The refurbished building now seats about 400 people in air-conditioned comfort and offers year-round theatre and concerts.       


Stratford Shakespeare Festival
55 Queen St.
99 Downie St.
111 Lakeside Dr.
34 George St. E.
If you love Shakespeare, Stratford, Ont., is as close to the Bard as you will get, without travelling to Britain. Twelve plays and musicals are on offer this season, in four distinct stages, with seating from 260 at the cozy Studio Theatre to 1,826 at the Festival Theatre, just up the Avon River on Queen Street. There are also after-hour cabarets, improv and other showcases at the Studio Theatre.     

VARIOUS (Travelling)

Driftwood Theatre
The Driftwood Theatre Group, dedicated to new play development, is also Ontario’s outdoor, summer touring theatre company, sharing the works of William Shakespeare with nearly 70,000 people across Ontario, Canada since 1995. This year, Driftwood presents its first ever non-Shakespearean production, presenting Homer’s The Odyssey. Driftwood performances are Pay-What-You-Can, but audience members can reserve their blanket/lawnchair seating in advance by paying the full recommended $15 admission fee. Driftwood visited 25 communities last year.  

VARIOUS (Travelling)

Humber River Shakespeare Company  
Bring your own blanket, lawn chair and picnic as the Humber River Shakespeare Company takes its professional touring theatre to communities along the historic Humber River and beyond. The company puts the focus on actors, not elaborate sets, to tell Shakespeare’s timeless stories. Each touring park production is Pay-What-You-Can, so that anyone can afford to see the show. This season’s As You Like It will stop in a dozen indoor and outdoor locations, with full details coming soon. — May 2014