It’s an adventure – down a dark alley, at the back of a commercial building, and behind a metal door – and it looks more like a speakeasy than a theatre. I feel I should have a secret password to enter. With only 40 seats and a scant 500 sq. ft. of black box goodness, The Theatre on King (TTOK) is a small but mighty performance hub and spiritual heir to Peterborough’s legendary Union Theatre.
Forget the movies – this tiny perfect theatre has become my favourite place to pop in almost any night of the week to see some live, affordable, original performance and still be home by 10pm.
The quiet, seemingly unflappable wizard behind the curtain is Ryan Kerr. After combing the city for an affordable space (one of the prerequisites was that it had to be stumbling distance from the Only), he began leasing the tiny space from Second City alumni Linda Kash’s Peterborough Academy of Performing Arts; now P.A.P.A. leases from him. The no frills building and Kerr’s nimble programming have proved to be the secret sauce. “Sometimes the seats are on one side, sometimes they are on the other.” A partnership with Theatre Trent leverages new productions and with some fuel from Public Energy, in just 2 years The Theatre on King has accomplished feats of theatrical strength.
A performer himself, Kerr cut his teeth at the Union Theatre when he was a history major at Trent. “We stayed because of the arts” he says. He developed the skills necessary to be the dexterous impresario he has become – skills ranging from dance and choreo, lighting, theatre management, set building, mentorship, marketing, front of house, bartending and even a little psychology.
“It’s a place where you can afford to fail,” Kerr says. Since Market Hall is too expensive for small scale or experimental productions; since the Union Theatre is gone and the downtown bookstores are closing; since Trent has made significant cuts to their Cultural Studies programming, Kerr’s TTOK rightly fills the need for a downtown arts incubator. Kerr tells me one of the things he enjoys most about the space is watching the audience mingling after the show, generating new connections and ideas.
With the freedom to produce edgier, quirkier works, both homegrown and from outside the Peterborough area, the TTOK fare is eclectic and invigorating. The following is only a portion of what The Theatre on King has presented in this year alone:
- Toronto Fringe Festival favourite Parallel Play with Elvira Kurt and Megan Fahlenbock;
- David Bateman’s Destiny in the Park, a chance for novice actors to work with more established ones – with Wyatt Lamoureux, Kelsey Gordon Powell, Matt Gilbert, and Derek Bell;
- Harold Pinter’s existential classic The Dumb Waiter, with Brad Brackenridge and Dan Fewings;
- an adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s cult classic musical fantasy film, 5000 Fingers of Dr. T., featuring Sarah McNeilly’s charmingly madcap contribution as one of the Twins;
- Young Frankenstein with a local cast including Brackenridge as a thoroughly adorable monster;
- A Cee Dees reunion;
- a workshop production of the original play The Blind Eye, directed by Em Glasspool;
- Klezmer /chamber crossover band Ozere;
- Soap serials like the ambitious 12 part, guest-directed Pennies From Heaven;
- Book launch of They Have To Take You In, featuring stories by some of our beloved local writers like Joe Davies and Jan Thornhill,edited by Ursula Pflug;
- Mysterious Entity’s Script Club;
- Ken Gibb’s Martial Arts for Actors workshop;
- Mala Yerba Nunca Muere (Wild Flowers Never Die), contemporary flamenco;
- Sappho …in 9 fragments, by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, with Victoria Grove;
- A Short Evening of Short Films featuring local film makers Brian Mitolo, Michael Morritt, and Lester Alfonso.
A call for submissions has yielded some performance gems for the second small dance festival, December 19-21, 2014 at TTOK. Don’t miss Hilary Wear’s 2 minute time lapse of 20 years of motherhood in Empty Nest, up-and-coming contemporary dancer Chelsea McPolland, and excerpts from Kate Story’s damned be this migration, which will be presented in its entirety January 28-February 1, 2015.
Also coming in 2015 will be a One Act Play Festival featuring winner Lindy Powell’s entry, a Dada festival, more from the Motley Collective, professional development workshops, a Writer’s Union event, improv with PARN, some of Kerr’s own performance pieces and undoubtedly so much more.
Like the Peterborough music scene, live theatre and performance companies are thriving – Peterborough Theatre Guild, St. James Players, Art for Awareness, New Stages Theatre Company, Mysterious Entity, The Motley Collective, The Anne Shirley Theatre Company, The Citiots Improv, Firebrand Theatre, Arbor Theatre as well as veterans 4th Line Theatre and Public Energy.
But none is quite so intimate, so risk-taking, so enchanting, as The Theatre on King.