When's the Last Time You Went to a Show at the Living Arts Centre?
Even though you'd probably have to have a pretty good arm, it's not terribly inaccurate to say that Mississauga is a stone's throw from Toronto.
While this is hugely beneficial to the one-time bedroom community and quickly growing (and urbanizing) city, Mississauga's proximity to Toronto does come with one chief drawback: It's more challenging to promote the local arts and culture scene.
Mississauga residents can be downtown in 30 to 60 minutes (depending on traffic and what form of transportation they take), and that means that residents are always an hour (or less) away from renowned museums, art galleries, theatres and other performance spaces.
When it comes to keeping people in town, Mississauga—much like any other 'burb—has its work cut out for it.
But while the city is far from bereft of arts and culture, one of its premiere performance venues might be missing out on opportunities to pack its auditoriums every night.
The Living Arts Centre, located near both Square One and City Hall in Mississauga's growing City Centre neighbourhood, hosts numerous performances and productions throughout the year—and many of its productions attract large audiences.
Last year, LAC welcomed Canadian music legend Gordon Lightfoot, pleased holiday traditionalists with sold out performances of A Christmas Carol and hosted a huge TedX event.
As far as season 2018-19 highlights go, LAC showcased productions of Audacious Women, Hot Havana Nights, Cottagers and Indians and more. It also hosted performances by Basia Bulat and The Debaters. Some upcoming productions include a performance by A Tribe Called Red, Choir! Choir! Choir!, All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, and The Nutcracker (which will likely be a big hit this holiday season).
To be clear, there's nothing wrong with the productions or performances that take place at the LAC—but it looks like the theatre could do more to diversify its offerings and, in the process, attract more millennial (and even older Gen Z) attendees.
Keeping theatre lovers involved and invested in local theatre is tough when Toronto is so close, but it's certainly not impossible. In fact, the LAC could probably glean a great deal of inspiration from looking at the types of productions neighbouring theatres are hosting.
In early 2017, Hart House Theatre—which is located on U of T's St. George Campus—hosted a fun, if not slightly rough-around-the-edges production of Carrie The Musical. The musical, adapted from the famous Stephen King novel, was quirky enough to draw a younger crowd and pack the auditorium to the rafters.
Over the coming months, Hart House attendees can check out Heathers: The Musical, Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad and Hair. All of these productions have one thing in common: They're not particularly safe, nor are they suitable for families. And that's okay—the City Centre neighbourhood is full of Sheridan students and young professionals (and even more mature couples and groups of friends) who are in the market for some spicier, edgier and more thought-provoking live entertainment.
If the LAC decides to take on more adult productions, it doesn't have to abandon its family-friendly or more traditional programming. In fact, it would be unwise to do so. There are people who frequent the LAC to listen to the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra or watch filmed productions of world-famous ballets based on Leo Tolstoy novels, and those people shouldn't have to go without those productions.
But it can probably shake things up a bit with a more attention-grabbing (and this doesn't necessarily mean controversial) performance every two or three months.
The Lower Ossington Theatre, for example, offers attendees a mix of family-friendly and more adult programming. Some performances offered this season? The Rocky Horror Show (there's no reason for any community theatre to not have its own Rocky Horror production every Halloween), Once on This Island, Newsies, The Producers, The Wizard of Oz and It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.
Hosting a production of a famous Broadway musical or play would do wonders for the LAC, as people would love the opportunity to see something like Rent or The Producers closer to home.
To be fair, the LAC goes beyond productions to keep people in the theatre—and it has attracted a lot of patrons over the years. According to the LAC, the theatre typically hosts over 100 performances a year and welcomes more than 400,000 visitors. Those visitors (up to 2,000 of them) sometimes enroll in the centre's workshops and classes, which teach everything from sculpting and metalworking to glassblowing.
The LAC also offers an art gallery and functions as a summer camp, so it's certainly no stranger to diversifying and isn't afraid to wear different hats. But its size and location demand more of it. More specifically, its ideal location and proximity to a vast number of potential patrons demands a greater commitment to a greater and more risk-taking array of productions.
The LAC has done a commendable job of ensuring it has something for everyone. Tales of an Urban Indian was a unique and risk-taking production that explored the Indigenous Canadian experience in an unforgettable way. More recently, the LAC hosted My Dream, a production by the China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe. My Dream showcased the talents of people with disabilities, which is incredibly admirable and inclusive. The LAC also hosted Limitless, another production that features differently-abled performers.
What the LAC needs is more famous, more interesting, more youthful productions that will augment its current offerings, effectively attracting a different type of audience and truly making it a cultural space that can be everything to everyone.
With the LRT coming and M City taking shape, the neighbourhood is going to become trendier, and it needs a centre with its ear to the ground when it comes to the ever-evolving world of live theatre.
What productions would you like to see at The Living Arts Centre?
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