Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles chronicling the effects of COVID-19 on businesses and organizations in Oshawa.
The stage lights have been turned off and the doors closed at the Oshawa Little Theatre (OLT) due to COVID-19.
The OLT has been a part of Oshawa’s entertainment scene since the theatre’s first show in 1928 and has been located in its current building at 62 Russett Avenue since 1983.
When operational, the theatre puts on multiple productions annually, while also offering summer and youth camp programs as well as rentals for events.
But the theatre closed March 12 due to the pandemic, a week before the theatre was to premier, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is now delayed until theatre operations resume.
Former theatre President and current Executive Producer, Michael Schneider, says the theatre had a packed summer schedule before COVID-19 changed those plans.
“We had the whole month of June for our community dance recitals,” says Schneider. “Many of the local dance schools book our facility to do their year-end shows.”
Along with having to cancel recitals, Schneider says the theatre also had to cancel external touring shows which had rented the space as well as moving the theatre’s summer camps to a virtual platform.
With all events being postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic, the theatre has fallen victim to both vandalism and property damage.
“We were robbed,” says Schneider. “We had people break into the theatre and steal our safe.”
The thieves left with little to show as the safe contained little in value.
“They did a lot of work to get a lot of coins and loose change,” he says.
The theatre has also become victim to a large influx in another type of unwelcome guests – rodents.
“They’ve been tearing at the place getting into and destroying sections of the roof and things like that,” says Schneider.
With COVID-19 cases surging in Ontario in recent weeks, Schneider expects nothing to change anytime soon.
“To be honest, I can’t foresee anything happening until at best next summer. That’s the best-case scenario,” says Schneider.
With many local businesses closing for good, Schneider hopes the community ultimately will help and support the theatre in avoiding a similar fate.
“We are exploring things we can do to try and engage the community but there are challenges,” explains Schneider, “because we’re a volunteer organization, it’s very hard. You have to commit people to do it and their time has also been deeply affected by the pandemic.”
Schneider says the theatre will still hold its annual general meeting, held virtually, where they will be asking for donations in support while the theatre remains closed and revenue isn’t coming in.
“We’re fortunate we were in a fairly decent financial place that we can keep the place going but that’s not going to last indefinitely,” says Schneider.
As communities and businesses wait to see what the future holds with the COVID-19 pandemic, Schneider explains why theatre is vital and must be supported.
“I really believe the arts are a fundamental pillar of a community and they are going to be most seriously impacted,” says Schneider. “When you’ve got an organization like this which depends on the community to keep itself going, the impact of COVID-19 is catastrophic.”
Despite uncertainty of when business will go back to how it was pre pandemic, Schneider says the theatre will be ready.
“When we do come back we’re going to do everything we can to do it safely and keep people safe,” says Schneider, “but theatre is so indispensable and we hope that people remember us when we do try to engage and reach out to them to reach back and keep us afloat.”