This summer we’re hitting the road to feature Ontario theatre companies we’ve never visited before. Our first trip was to the municipality of Port Hope 109 km east of Toronto where the historic Capitol Theatre is a key cultural hub bolstered by exciting new leadership and community investment.


Before a performance of Canadian true story The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom, we were met at the entrance to the beautiful Capitol Theatre by the company’s Artistic & Administrative Coordinator Emily Martin who gave us a tour of the impressive facility. Opened in 1930 and restored in 1995 as a performing arts venue, the Capitol is an old movie theatre full of character and quirks. The building next door has now been incorporated as a modern addition to allow for a proper box office area, second studio theatre space, offices, and key artist facilities like a workshop and green room. With an army of local volunteers and an impressive professional staff, the Capitol has the infrastructure and priorities to live up to the history and potential of its multi-generational facility.


Though the programming seems apropos for a small Canadian town, The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom isn’t as strong of a text as I’d like to see this company tackle. Directed by artistic director Rob Kempson and starring the capable Scott Carmichael with an uneven but energetic ensemble, the production is fairly well executed and appropriately high spirited. Brandon Kleiman’s multi-level set with its oversized guitar and honky tonk marquee lights gives the production a boost of production value pizzazz and the performances of Stompin’ Tom Connors’ songs are pure delight but David Scott’s book is unfocused and strangely paced, leaving the actors little to grab onto between songs.


There are a few more promising productions coming down the pike at the Capitol, including some one-night-only events and smart use of the studio space (I highly recommend Michael Hughes’ Mickey & Judy, playing July 27-Aug 6), but in general I’d like to see a bit more ambition to make the most of the company’s resources and prominent place in the community. At the same time, I’d like to see the $50 ticket price come down, or at least the introduction of a rush program or back row discount (ages 30 and under get $10 off but that’s not a real deal-breaker of a cut). A focus on community involvement is admirable but the most important thing is to get the art to said community and that starts at the box office.


The Capitol is obviously important to Port Hope- that’s clear not only in their volunteer force but in their fundraising efforts and even just seeing the posters for their productions proudly displayed in local businesses- so I’d like to see it become a real artistic leader, and not just in the studio space. There’s definitely room for feel-good shows about how great Peterborough is (that local shout-out got a huge reaction in Stompin’ Tom) but I think this audience can be, and deserves to be, pushed a little. Kempson absolutely has that in him so I hope he’s just getting started.