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REVIEW: Theatre group summons 'spirits' for first in-person production in months

The Ghost Watchers debuted last Wednesday and consists of nine stops in Barrie's downtown; It continues until Aug. 28

Theatre by the Bay (TBTB) has found a way to put on a show, tell the history of the city and go ghost hunting in their latest production.

The Ghost Watchers debuted last Wednesday and consists of nine stops along the downtown core of the city, starting at Heritage Park and ending up at Memorial Square.

A little overcast on the first night may have worried TBTB artistic director Iain Moggach, but the setting was perfect for seeking the ghosts of the city’s past.

When you arrive at the tent on the west end of Heritage Park, you sign in and get your QR code, which is required. This allows you to “see the ghosts” through your screen as you tour the area.

What begins as a seemingly historical tour of the town by a “city rep” — on this night played by Sabrina Merks  takes a fun turn as a resident ghost hunter Tracy (Alyssa Bartholomew) interrupts to test her equipment. 

If you’re wondering about the costume Tracy wore, one downtown resident shouted “Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” as the tour reached Dunlop Street.

A walk along Kempenfelt Bay and up Mulcaster Street was just what the audience/tourists needed after being locked up for 16 months. 

While the two actors keep the conversation going during the walk, it is the perfect time for a first date, group of friends or family or strangers to chat.

Actors James Dallas Smith, Candy Pryce and David Evans will entertain you with their characters as you point your phone to where their spirits are residing. For example, Smith plays the part of an Indigenous drowning victim who appears to rise out of the bay in a ghostly manner.

There were some historically accurate people in the tour with Mrs. Morrison (Pryce), Thomas Baggs (Evans) and Alice May Cotter (Sarah Warren), all names that can be looked up in the history of the area.

Others were inspired by real people, such as The Woman (Heather Dennis). Then there were some who, while fictional, will absolutely resonate with the audience as having elements of truth that can help with many issues faced by people today. Hector (Smith) Alisha (Alinka Angelova) and Roisin O’Reilly (Breanne Tice) each will make you think and discuss as you make your way to the next ghost site.

If you think the images on your screen would be very unbelievable and even poorly done, you are in for a treat. The technology used to make the ghosts come to life is very well done and along with the stories they tell, will reel you in to the city's history, something TBTB has perfected over the years.

While the stories from the actors/ghosts are very interesting, the sites you stop at will never be looked at the same. Whether you knew about the many fires downtown or the rowdy bars, you will be drawn to how life looked when they happened.

But above all else, the main takeaway from The Ghost Watchers is that TBTB did it at all. They found a way to keep local arts moving forward at a time where 'uncertainty' has been the buzzword used for theatre.

Presented with the help of Tourism Barrie, Moggach and his team have forced everyone who has said for the last 16 months “I’m going to do something the second I can” to actually do something. 

For anyone who has shaken their heads in sympathy for the arts community during COVID shutdowns, TBTB has given you a way to safely enjoy a production. 

The Ghost Watchers is happening every night until Aug. 28. Tickets are available by clicking on this link.

You will want to bring headphones. They aren’t necessarily needed, but it certainly helps you to focus on the show.

You will also need a charged phone and a data plan.

Shawn Gibson is a BarrieToday staff reporter who is also looking for interesting ways to learn about Barrie's history.