For 50 years, the Durham Shoestring Performers have entertained theatregoers in downtown Oshawa. As the name suggests, the group does so with a mix of minimalist staging and maximum production value.
“What makes DSP different? It's in the name,” says Carolyn Wilson, president of the not-for-profit theatre group. “The goal remains to keep costs low for audiences so that most people can afford to attend, and there is no fee to join a production. And it is still rare in community theatre for the plays to be proposed by the directors. This, and our small space, results in the luxury of play selections you don’t see in most community theatres because we can take the risk that not all shows will appeal to everyone.”
The 2023/2024 season kicks off with ‘Mustard’ by Kat Sandler, a play with wide appeal and one that the DSP has pursued for some time. ‘Mustard,’ directed by Margo Roberts, with Paul Love in the title role, is a bedtime fairy story about love, friendship, and finding magic in unexpected places.
Opening night is 8 p.m., Friday, November 10 and continues through November 11, 15, 16, 17 and 18. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on November 12.
Although not written in stone, the majority of plays in the past five decades have been Canadian, with several being by local playwrights.
“The second play, If Truth Be Told, by Beverley Cooper, is of local relevance,” says Wilson, “since Durham District School Board has faced decisions similar to the central one in the play - whether to ban a book in the face of community complaints. The Trespassers, by Morris Panych, is about a family and community trying to find the truth when a boy is faced with a suspicious death.”
Those playing police officers in 'If Truth Be Told' should feel comfortable as the Arts Resource Centre, home to DSP, was once Oshawa’s police station.
“The space where we now perform was a courtroom with a window with badly fitting curtains that made it impossible to create a blackout when the time changed in the spring. We rehearsed in founder Jeannine Butler's basement because we didn't have enough money to rent rehearsal space. Tickets were $1 for three one-act plays,” says Wilson.
Tickets are still reasonable, with a season pass for all three plays costing $45.
Those coming in for the premiere of ‘Mustard’ may consider arriving a day earlier to attend a lecture on Oshawa-based artist Alexander Luke, a member of Painters Eleven, at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery located across from the Arts Resource Centre in the city’s Culture Square.
Luke’s story, too, is one of love and friendship. Luke married Clarence Ewart McLaughlin in 1928, granddaughter of Robert McLaughlin (father of Col. Sam. McLaughlin, president of GM Canada). She was instrumental in organizing the first Canadian all-abstract exhibition in 1952, which opened in Oshawa, featuring Luke’s Painters Eleven friends, including Oscar Cahen, Hortense Gordon, Tom Hodgson, William Ronald, and Harold Town. The exhibit toured across the country and was reviewed favourably. Ewart and Luke gave financial support as well as works from their own collection towards creating a public gallery in Oshawa, what would become the Robert McLaughlin Gallery.
On Thursday, November 9, at 7 p.m., Oshawa-based artist Margaret Rodgers, author of the book, “Locating Alexandra’, will speak to the legacy of Luke.
Talk about finding magic in unexpected places; who knew Oshawa had such a legacy of its own in the arts?