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Oshawa Little Theatre making big moves

Oshawa Little Theatre planning for large-scale redesign to modernize and attract new audiences and programming

The Oshawa Little Theatre is planning for a complete redesign of its existing location on Russett Avenue, slated to take place over the next few years. (Photos by Joel Wittnebel)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Looking to position itself as a premier entertainment venue in Durham Region, the Oshawa Little Theatre is preparing to undertake one of the largest redevelopment projects in the theatre’s long and storied history.

The OLT, founded in 1927, has been situated at its current location on Russett Avenue in Oshawa since 1975, and now, the former industrial building not only looks drab, but the insides are really starting to show signs of their age.

For that reason, Michael Schneider, the executive producer and past president of the OLT, says the rehabilitation of the theatre is both practical as it is a vision for change.

Currently, the bathroom facilities in the theatre are in dire need of an upgrade, due to their size and age, and while the main theatre area remains in fantastic shape, some changes will need to be made to improve accessibility for a mostly older client base. The theatre accommodates approximately 15,000 patrons each year.

The theatre’s executive producer Michael Schneider hopes the project can get shovels in the ground next year.

“You want to provide a proper place for people to sit and enjoy themselves,” Schneider says.

Along with that, there are also many other improvements envisioned for the first phase of the theatre’s redesign, tentatively set to get underway in July of next year, the most signifiant of those being the creation of a second stage and rehearsal room, not only for additional performances, but to also act as a rental facility for a broad range of users.

“We want to get more people into this facility, seeing this facility and expanding our programming,” Schneider says. “Our next generation of people coming in here may not come about because of the shows that we offer, ironically, it’s because they come here for another event and realize we have shows here.”

And for a not-for-profit organization that mostly relies on the generosity of volunteers and donors, rental revenues from things like weddings or corporate events can be an essential lifeblood for the theatre’s survival.

“We’ve done reasonably well, but we want to attract more,” says John Chave, the theatre’s general manager. “A lot of them are not terribly enamoured with what they see. We have a great theatre space, but the ancillary aspects of the place are in sore need of revamping.”

The majority of that revamping will come in phase two and three of the project, which look to completely redesign the current location. Tearing out the entirety of the main lobby and creating an open atrium-like space for patrons as they enter. The reworking would also include expanding the back of the building out into the parking lot. This phase would see more work done to the behind the scenes aspects of the theatre, including the dressing rooms, green room, rear stage and storage facilities, which the theatre is currently stretching to capacity.

“We really look at becoming a regional performing arts facility,” Schneider says. “Durham doesn’t have that, and it should.”

Schneider says with the emergence of arts in the region, and more art-focused subjects being taught in schools, a space like the OLT is needed to accommodate and attract the younger generations.

“It’s a very different kind of cultural experience and that’s what we really want to foster and grow,” he says.

Ideally, Schneider says he’d like to see the renovations done as fast as possible, but with a phased approach, it will allow potential donors to see the progress and the effort that they are putting money towards. The theatre has also applied for grants from the provincial government to help fund the project.

“The plans don’t go stale, so that’s the important first step,” Schneider says. “I really am remaining very optimistic that we can do this in the next year so that basically, this time next year, this has all been renovated and done.”

For more information about the OLT visit oshawalittletheatre.com.