Touchmark Theatre Finds a Home in Guelph

by Anna Contini

It’s being touted as the “theatre for theatre lovers.” Touchmark Theatre, Southern Ontario’s newest, professional theatre company, has recently found a home in Guelph. Founding Artistic Director, Douglas Beattie, believes the River Run Centre’s Co-operators Hall will be the perfect venue for the coming productions.

Beattie, best known as the director and producer of the Wingfield comedies, founded Touchmark to create “a purer theatrical experience” than the big touring shows offer. The idea of Touchmark grew out of workshop productions he staged in the studio space at the Grand Theatre in London in 1997 and 1998. “I wanted to direct some wonderful plays I wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance to do, because they weren’t commercially viable,” says Beattie. His goal is to stage rich and substantial works in an intimate studio space with audiences who really want to see them.

Once Beattie decided to found a theatre company, he zeroed in on Southwestern Ontario because of its vast talent pool and theatre-loving audiences. When he discovered that Guelph had just built a world-class facility with a studio theatre, the handwriting was on the wall.

The company plans to produce a variety of drama and comedies that “challenge the audience,” says Doug Marr, Director of Marketing and Publicity for Touchmark. He notes that Beattie has a proven track record of presenting plays that are invigorating “think pieces.” For its inaugural production the company will offer Kingdom of Earth by Tennessee Williams, playing nine performances November 5 to 13. The play is not well known, probably because it was not a commercial success in its original Broadway staging. Nonetheless, it is considered to be a suspenseful and powerful piece. According to Beattie, the play is “a buried treasure.” Kingdom of Earth is a tale of a dying, vindictive man and his wife trying to connive a despised half-brother out of his birthright farmstead. The play is set on a 1960s’ Mississippi Delta farmstead threatened by flood. Three seasoned professionals, Paul Essiembre, Eric Woolfe and Patricia Yeatman, star in the production. Supporting the cast are stage manager Paula Steffler, a Guelph native, Elora set and costume designer Dennis Horn, and Stratford lighting designer Renee Brode.

Touchmark plans to produce one play in its first season,
to introduce itself to the community, then work up to a series of three plays per fall-to-winter season. According to Beattie, their goal is to present well-crafted, rich and substantial plays to small audiences that are serious about theatre. The Touchmark publicity byline says it all: Powerful Stories, Artfully Told.

Kingdom of Earth will run in the Co-operators Hall at the River Run Centre November 5 to 13. Tickets range from $22-$28 with a pay-what-you-can performance scheduled for November 7 at
2 p.m. Discounts for groups and River Run subscribers are available.
For more information contact the River Run Box Office (519)763-3000.