A local theatre nut has carved out a niche for herself in Collingwood, and has big aspirations to change the theatre landscape on a global scale.
We sat down with Rochelle Reynolds, 27, founder of Quarter Century Theatre. She also works as production manager with Theatre by the Bay in Barrie.
Q: What is your background?
A: I was born in Collingwood, but grew up in Toronto. My dad always kept property in Collingwood so I always had a connection to it. I’ve lived here on my own for five years.
Q: What took you to Toronto?
A: My parents divorced. My dad always had this cottage in Collingwood, so it’s always been more a part of his life than my mom’s. When the divorce happened, she moved back to Toronto and I went with her and did my schooling there. I would come up to Collingwood as a weekender.
Q: When did your love of theatre begin?
A: Probably around the same time my parents’ divorce happened. When something like that is happening in a family, they basically wanted to inundate me with stuff to do to take my mind off it. I was five then, so it’s around that time you start developing your likes and dislikes.
They threw me into everything, but drama and horseback riding were the two things that stuck. I’ve been doing both ever since.
I’ve always been a writer as well.
When I was in Grade 6, I went to a summer camp in Toronto that was all drama based, and after that I was invited into this conservatory program. I was part of that for many years. That’s when it changed from just something fun to (me knowing) I wanted this to be my life. I also started getting interested in directing at that time.
I went to an arts high school. I did my undergraduate degree in Newfoundland; it was a bachelor of fine arts in theatre/acting. I did my masters in the UK at the University of York and that was a masters of arts in writing/directing/performance.
Q: After you were done with schooling, what made you think about wanting to return to your hometown of Collingwood?
A: It’s really not a glamorous story. (laughs) After getting my Masters, I decided I was going to move back to Canada. I really just had two choices: Toronto or Collingwood.
I’ve just never been a huge fan of Toronto. I think it’s a great city. I love the energy, and I love the friends that I have there. In terms of wanting to live there, it just doesn’t suit my lifestyle.
I thought I’d just come to Collingwood and do my own thing for a little bit. But then, things just sort of kept happening. I’m not very good at sitting still for very long.
I got a job in management at Cranberry Resort. I was lucky because not a lot of 21 or 22 year olds get that managerial experience that early on. It helped give me a crash course in how to run something and how to be held accountable.
Q: What led to your decision to start your own theatre company?
A: It was always something that I wanted to do. It had been brewing for a really long time. In high school I had started testing myself to see if I had what it takes to make this sort of thing happen. At the end of Grade 12, I took it on myself to fully produce a show I had written independently.
It’s a huge responsibility, but I really thought this was where I was going to find my niche, and would fulfill me.
After working at the resort, I decided to create a new sort of empire for myself.
Q: Why did you name it Quarter Century Theatre?
A: Because I started it when I was just about to turn 25.
Q: What goes into starting a theatre company?
A: The idea of Quarter Century Theatre had been living in my head for a very long time.
The first year was definitely a crash course in everything. We did a four-show season: winter, spring, summer and fall show. It was pretty ambitious. I committed myself early on.
If it hadn’t gone according to plan, there would have been nobody to blame but myself. It’s evolved since then. My style has changed, and what I want out of the work I’m creating has changed, but all of that is for the better.
The mission that I have been on that has only really become clearer to me in recent years, is that I want to create theatre that changes the expectation of what theatre is for both audience and performer. So, every time somebody comes to see a show that I have created, I want them to be put in a place of discomfort – and that doesn’t have to mean they don’t like what they’re seeing. I just want them to not expect what they’re seeing.
The second mission I have – and it’s a much greater (and long-term) mission – is that I want to affect a positive and lasting change on what the theatre industry is. So, how can the contributions that I make further the industry and art form as a whole? That’s more a life-long goal. (laughs)
It’s what drives me.
Q: In that first year, was there anything you learned that was surprising?
A: When I first opened Quarter Century Theatre, one of my unique selling points was that we were site-specific.
Site-specific theatre is theatre that exists in any place that isn’t a theatre, basically. So, for example, we could come into a space like a bakery and do a show that pairs perfectly with that environment. It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a play about a coffee shop, but it means it could be a play maybe about say factory workers and we could use the bakery setting to enhance the atmosphere. So that’s where we began.
I’m used to places like Toronto, Newfoundland and England where arts are held in very high regard and most people are really on-board to welcome initiatives like that. When I was approaching businesses to host my shows in Collingwood, I didn’t find that in a lot of cases and I was very surprised by that.
It’s not necessarily because they didn’t support the arts. It made me feel like I was in a place now where when I told people what I could do, it wasn’t enough to stand on its own. I had to show them. It’s interesting that way. I wasn’t necessarily prepared for it.
Q: Over the past three years, do you find that’s changed?
A: We’re seeing our numbers grow. It’s a good measure of success. Between the first and second year we saw a 20 per cent increase in revenue, and then another 10 percent this year. That’s pretty good. Not a lot of businesses can say that.
I devote my life to art. I think that resonates with people.
Q: Do you ever collaborate with other local theatre organizations?
A: Even though I was born in this area, I’m relatively new to other companies. I just dove in and started my own thing.
I have collaborated with Gaslight Theatre, I acted with them in a show and I directed for them a couple of times. My biggest ally is Clearview Community Theatre in Stayner. They’re really wonderful. They remind me why I wanted to do this when I was 10 years old. Every time I go there I’m transported back to that place of being there for the love of it. I teach workshops for them, and when I’m able to, I love to be in their shows.
I’m also working as production manager for Theatre by the Bay in Barrie. It’s a new role for me. It started in April/May and it’s only for the summer, but I’m keen to stay involved with them.
I’m also collaborating with Mountain Goat Films – I’m creating a feature-length film with them. I can’t wait.
Q: What does the future hold for Quarter Century Theatre, and for you?
A: We just came off our most successful production to date (Miss Julie and A Doll’s House). I really flexed all of my muscles. I pushed really hard to elevate our brand. They were two adaptations of older scripts, and I paired them together into one mega show.
What that experience taught me was that I need to be louder and prouder of who I am and what I’m doing because South Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada and the world eventually needs to know what’s going on here and needs to know there’s some pretty unique theatre being developed all over the world, and I’m representing this part of the world.
One of my main goals now is to make an effort to branch shows out beyond where we are. With that show, we had an awesome opportunity through Talk is Free Theatre to present our show at the Five Points Theatre in Barrie for a one-night-only engagement. It was incredible. It was amazing to have people leaving the theatre saying, “We need to tell our friends about what’s going on in Collingwood.”
That was excellent.