Live entertainment to return to London’s Grand Theatre for upcoming 2021-22 season

The Grand Theatre in London, Ont., on May 26, 2021. Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL

Live theatre will be returning to the Grand this year for its 2021-22 season, kicking off with a 16-night “Grand Re: Opening Festival” that will be helmed by four local artists, officials with the theatre unveiled Thursday.

The London, Ont., landmark’s upcoming season will officially open in October, 16 months after the theatre was forced to close its doors to the public as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Throughout the last 16 months, we’ve said that we will be back, that the theatre will return, and when we do, we will be even better than before,” Deb Harvey, the Grand’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Today, we are following through on that commitment.”

The planned reopening festival in October will feature multi-layered events including art installations, concerts, new plays, and readings from artists Summer Bressette, Richard Gracious, Alexandra Kane, and Mark Uhre — events which theatre officials say will utilize various spaces of the Grand, including its newly renovated lobby.

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The theatre has been undergoing a significant 10-month, $9 million renovation to modernize its box office and lobbies, update its sound and lighting systems, and expand backstage areas. The upcoming season will mark the public’s first time inside the Grand since work began.

Harvey says the theatre continues to monitor health guidelines and work on safety procotols and procedures.

“The health and safety of our staff, artists, volunteers and patrons have always been our top priority, and we are committing to clear communication for Londoners on what to expect once we are given the go-ahead to invite folks into our spaces.”

Under the province’s recently unveiled three-stage reopening plans, performing arts spaces will be able to reopen to the public under the third stage, which will only come once the province has vaccinated more than 70 per cent of adults with one dose and 25 per cent with two doses, along with positive trends in public health.

The upcoming season will see the long-awaited opening of the stage adaptation of Room by Emma Donoghue. Production on the play was halted in March 2020 when the Grand was closed to the public, with just three public previews held.

The show will finally get its official start in January 2022 on the theatre’s main Spriet Stage, nearly two years after its original opening date.

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The following month, the main stage will see the opening of Controlled Damage from award winning, London-born playwright Andrea Scott, which showcases and illuminates the life of Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond, the theatre says.

In the newly renovated and renamed Auburn Developments Stage, meanwhile, will be the performance of Rubaboo: Songs and Stories With Andrea Menard. Described as a “musical feast” of the award-winning actor, singer, and storyteller’s Métis culture, Rubaboo will run the first two weeks of February.

In April, the theatre’s main Spriet Stage will see the world premiere of the musical Grow, which follows two Amish teens, Hannah and Ruth, who embark on a rumspringa — a period when Amish youth embark on their own in the world beyond their communities — to Toronto.

The show, written by Matt Murray with music and lyrics from Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segal, will be directed by the Grand’s artistic director, Dennis Garnhum.

Like Room, the production of Grow was also discontinued last spring by the pandemic.

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Ontario government unveils COVID-19 reopening plan

The upcoming season will also see the return of the long-running High School Project later this year, albeit with some notable changes. This year, the program will run three weeks, and will be held primarily outdoors and online, with students creating a mini, filmed presentation called The Great Grand Road Trip.

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Those looking forward to a full High School Project production on the Grand’s main Spriet Stage will have to wait until the 2022-23 season, theatre officials say. (In a statement, Garnhum described the planned production as “huge” and “world-renowned” and noted it had never been done before at the Grand.)

Also returning for the upcoming season will be an abridged version of Peter Brennan’s Jeans ‘n Classics series on the main stage, with An Evening of Pink Floyd on Feb. 10, Rattle and Hum: the Songs of U2 on March 17, and She’s Got It on May 5, all featuring the women of the Jean’s ‘n Classics Rock Symphony, the theatre says.

It’s unclear when tickets will be put on sale. Officials say tickets will be available once they have better direction regarding capacity levels, with subscribers and patrons who have credits provided first opportunities.

The opening of the 2021-22 season will come after a rough 16 months for the theatre as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the theatre to skip an entire season.

With the theatre closed due to pandemic restrictions and its 2020-21 season abandoned, the Grand unveiled several virtual offerings in its place last fall, including a podcast, an online version of the High School Project, and a free, livestreamed “Un-Opening Night.”

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The financial toll of the pandemic resulted in the theatre ending 2020 with a $65,348 operating deficit — it’s first deficit in 21 years.

The figure would have been more than $500,000 had it not been for a happenstance insurance policy change mere months before the pandemic which added coverage for performance disruption.

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