Blue Canoe Company History
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2006- The Formation
They began to meet monthly, applied to the Community Foundation of Greater Kingston with Dreams in Motion as a sponsor and formed the ground work for the theatre company. At the time no one discussed what would happen after the Musical.
2007-2009 (Early Years)
Blue Canoe Productions took to the stage in April 2006 at the Wellington St Theatre, a small theatre located on the corner of Wellington and Johnson streets in Kingston. This theatre was renovated out of a church to help fill the need in Kingston for a community venue, The Grand Theatre had been closed for renovations for the past few years.
The company produced a play called That Summer by Canadian playwright David French. The thought was to use the Grant money to produce a play to provide a bit more funding leading into the musical. The play was a success and with the help from another grant, this time from the Town of Gananoque, Blue Canoe returned to Gananoque and produced Seussical: The Musical.
That Summer featured a cast and production team mainly comprised of current students or graduates from Regi. For Seussical, the company held open auditions and targeted all the local high schools from Gananoque and Kingston to fill the cast. Also, joining Michael, Kristina and Alicia as producers of the show were Andrew Taggart and Jay Jantz, both who became heavily involved in the company moving froward.
Seussical ran for 4 sold out performances launching Blue Canoe into a second season, once again producing one play in the winter (7 Stories) and one musical in the summer (Into the Woods) both at The Wellington St Theatre.
In 2009 Blue Canoe produced three productions, Titus Andronicus in January at The Wellington, RENT: The School Edition in May and Bye Bye Birdie in the summer at The Octave Theatre. All three shows were a big success at the box office as well as introduced Blue Canoe in a large way to the Queen's and High School communities.
2010-2011 (Affordable. Professional. Local)
In 2010 Blue Canoe produced 4 productions and two special events. The Kingston debut of John & Jen in February, Guys & Dolls at the Firehall Theatre in Gananoque in March, Tick, Tick...BOOM at the Baby Grand Theatre in June and Sweeney Todd at the Octave in August. The company also produced a night of music called "Classics Night" at the end of the summer. And in the fall at the Baby Grand the company produced the play How I Learned to Drive. Much of these productions met with success though some issues began to come up regarding financial management. Andrew Taggart was made the company's General Manager in August 2010 after some budgeting issues associated with Sweeney Todd. However, overall the season was another success, Sweeney Todd to date remains one of the top 10 most attended Blue Canoe shows.
In 2011 the company produced another 4 productions. This time the plan was to produce Cabaret on the main stage at The Grand Theatre in the summer as part of the company's 5th season celebration. Unfortunately due to casting issues, the company cancelled the production. Blue Canoe opened the season with Sweet Charity in January at Con Hall, produced the debut of Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog at the Time to Laugh Comedy Club in February, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in June at Queen's in the Rotunda Theatre and Glengarry Glen Ross at the Baby Grand Theatre in October.
2011 also introduced the first ever 24 hour musical, produced in the summer. The concept was created by Michael Sheppard to give a cast exactly 24 hours to rehearse a musical. The cast arrives at the rehearsal exactly 24 hours before the performance time where they learn who they will play, are handed a script, and a director, small band and cast set off to produce the show. This event became a looked forward to tradition within the company.
2012-2013 (Non-Profit Years)
The company officially applied for nonprofit status in November of 2011 which meant a change of name to Blue Canoe Theatrical Productions Inc. This also quickly brought on a change of branding as the company created a new logo and a new mission tagline.
The company began their 6th season in 2012 as a Non Profit. The company formed its first official board and staff that year, Michael Sheppard retained his position of Artistic Director (later changed to Artistic Producer), Jay Jantz as Music Coordinator and Andrew Taggart as General Manager. The board was a 7 person advisory board, in charge of company governance while the staff handled day to day operations. The first board consisted of 7 students, Karli Feldman (Chair), Jonathan Michaels, Sue Del-Mei, Carin Ann Crabtree, Josh Blackstock and Marta McDonald.
The 2012 season met with great success on a production level, it opened in the Baby Grand Theatre with Cabaret, the decision was made in the summer to remount the cancelled production. Following Cabaret was You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, 13 the Musical, Next to Normal and Avenue Q all of which were hits at the box office with no productions this season falling under 85% overall attendance. Cabaret became the most attended production in Blue Canoe's history with a sold out 12 show run. All 5 productions took place inside the Baby Grand Theatre.
Many issues came up between the board and staff when planning the 2013 season. Joining the staff were Brittany Dolan as Community Engagement, Molly Russell as Production Coordinator and Hilary Cameron as Artistic Associate. The company decided to begin to slowly work in older members to the board.
In 2013 the board switched to include 3 community members (over the age of 30) and 4 youth members (under the age of 30). By the end of 2013, the board made the decision to switch to 6 members from the community and 1 youth, while keeping the volunteer staff all youth positions.
The 7th season in 2013 opened with The Drowsy Chaperone breaking all previous attendance records becoming the new most attended production in Blue Canoe's history. Aida, Songs for a New World and Anne & Gilbert which quickly replaced Drowsy as the company's highest attending show. Anne & Gilbert was also the first production Blue Canoe produced at the new theatre inside the Harold Harvey Center, operated by the Domino Theatre.
Keep Blue Canoe Afloat (2013)
During the 2013 Season, Blue Canoe began to experience major issues with company finances. Due to an increase in operating expenses that were not being covered just with ticket sales as incoming revenue, even with the successful production.
The company launched a fundraising campaign titled Keep Blue Canoe Afloat which was headed up by the company's staff. Many community donors came to the help of the company who also had two box office flops in a row and cancelled programing. By the time the campaign ended it got the company a total of $4000 raised, enough to keep the group going until the end of Anne & Gilbert. Thankfully, that production was a smash hit.
Moving Forward (2014-Current)
The fall of 2013 brought a new project to Blue Canoe. Devon Dafoe and Michael Sheppard headed up a play, The Woman in Black, to run in the Basement of City Hall in the old jail cells. The show was a very unique found space experience for the company and audiences, limiting to only 10 seats per performance, the show ran for 20 performances in 3 weeks.
The 8th season began in January at the Baby Grand Theatre with the Kingston Debut of NINE, a show that quickly passed Cabaret and went behind Anne & Gilbert as the 2nd highest selling show in the company's history. Blue Canoe received a Grant from the City of Kingston Arts Fund to develop of professional mentorship production. The musical Pippin was cast as a normal Blue Canoe show, but the production team had 6 professionals working alongside Blue Canoe's youth. The idea was to test developing a more active training ground within Kingston for youth to learn from professionals in the business.
The 8th season ended with the largest show in company history. Blue Canoe produced the Kingston debut of Mel Brook's The Producers on the main stage at The Grand Theatre. This was the first show Blue Canoe was able to do on the main stage, but also had the largest cast and orchestra in company history.
During production of The Producers, Blue Canoe's Artistic Producer announced he would be resigning from the position at the end of the season. Quickly following that decision, Andrew Tagger, Devon Dafoe, Brittany Dolan and Jordan Richards all also resigned from their positions.
The board and Artistic Producer currently are working on the succession plan while planning a 9th season. The new staff will work with Michael Sheppard for a year to transition them into the company.
Michael Sheppard, Artistic Producer (2006-2014)