Andrea Rondeau column: Chemainus Theatre Festival a unique, surprising venue

Not many towns the size of Chemainus can boast a year-round professional theatre

We’re really lucky here in the Cowichan Valley. For many reasons.

But as I prepare to head to the Chemainus Theatre’s opening night of their big summer musical Mamma Mia!, alongside arts and entertainment reporter Lexi Bainas, I couldn’t help but reflect on how fortunate the Cowichan Valley is to have a professional theatre of this calibre in our comparatively small community.

Let me tell you, not many towns the size of Chemainus can boast a year-round professional theatre that can produce shows of the quality that we enjoy. Such venues are usually strictly the purview of larger cities such as Vancouver or Victoria. Even a city of the size of Nanaimo wouldn’t often have a professional theatre of such a high level.

It’s a subject we’ve often remarked upon in the newsroom. Reporter Robert Barron, who is from Nanaimo, relates that when he first got to go to the Chemainus Theatre he was expecting something on the decidedly amateur side of the theatre spectrum. He was shocked and awed by the quality of the production and couldn’t believe a theatre like this calls the Cowichan Valley home.

Over the years I’ve seen the Chemainus Theatre’s offerings mature and grow in style and professionalism. While always good, they are now equal to any I’ve seen in any venue. The musicals have evolved from showcasing a few good voices belting out popular songs, to slick, seamless top-quality productions without a weak link anywhere. Several recent ones have upped the ante with challenging dance numbers added to the mix.

They also seem to have found a winning formula with several musical productions sprinkled throughout the year along with the summer show, interspersed with some shorter-run dramas and comedies that show off the acting chops of their casts for appreciative theatre aficionados. Their success is well-deserved, and the last few years their reputation, deservedly, seems to have been growing, with shows regularly selling out.

It’s wonderful to see them take a chance on some more modern fare, like Mamma Mia!, Once, and Glorious. By doing so they not only entertain the theatre die-hards, they also bring new audiences in. Once they catch one production, we bet they’ll be hooked for life.

We’ve got some great amateur theatre in Cowichan, too, and the Cowichan Theatre also offers excellent travelling shows and local groups. We’re spoiled for choice with such a selection of arts venues.

But the Chemainus Theatre Festival is something special and unique. Long may it continue.

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