With the venue reduced to cinders, a Thorndale charity theatre troupe says the show must go on

Organizers of an annual dinner theatre fundraiser say the show must go on this weekend despite a fire that destroyed the local community centre on Monday.

The annual event supports the Thorndale Agricultural Society, which has been running the community’s annual fall fair for the last 160 years. 

“Our community centre was our hub,” said Jackie Malleck, who is involved in the annual dinner theatre program and thought this year’s final two productions would have to be cancelled after Monday’s fire destroyed the Thorndale Community Centre. 

“I live very close. I could see the glow in the sky so at 3:00 in the morning. I drove down and I was just sick,” she said as she watched the venue burn. 

But, she said that sick feeling turned to an overwhelming sense of gratitude within a few hours. 

Community rallies

The smoke hadn’t even cleared from the charred ruin before Malleck said Thorndale residents started offering their support to keep the dinner theatre alive.

“It’s just amazing. People are coming out of the woodwork offering things.”

The local hardware store offered free paint and other supplies to build a new stage. Neighbours offered to cook meals for crews working on new sets and George Taylor, the owner of The Purple Hill Country Hall opened up his venue free of charge. 

The owners of The Purple Hill Country Hall offered their venue for free to allow the Thorndale Agricultural Society to go ahead with its dinner theatre fundraiser. (The Purple Hill Country Hall )

“It’s just that we have a lot of room here and we love living in the country and so we’re here,” he said. “That’s what makes the community work.”

It will be a lot of work said Connie Bontje, past president of the Thorndale Agricultural Society and an actor in this year’s dinner theatre production.

She admitted some of the actors were a little apprehensive about taking to a new stage in a new venue the middle of the show’s run. 

“You know actors don’t want to change their comfort zone. But we said we weren’t going to do it unless we had 100 per cent consensus from the entire cast and crew which we got on Monday night,” said Bontje, acknowledging it won’t be the same as performing at the community centre.

“It’s not going to be the same magic. It’ll be different magic.” 

‘Out of the ashes’

Malleck said one person told her there’s talk of writing a play about the fire and the community’s response. 

This year’s show is a farce that is making its debut in Ontario. (Thorndale Agricultural Society)

“Out of the ashes or out of the fire, something like that.” said Malleck. “Yeah. It’s just amazing.”

This year’s production is called Don’t Get Your Vicars in a Twist, a farce by Ann Gawthorpe and Leslie Bown. This is the first time the UK production is being performed in Ontario and only the second time in Canada, according to Malleck. 

Extra tickets for just the show portion of the evening will be offered for $20.

But, some people from other towns and cities including St. Mary’s, London, and Dorchester bought tickets even though they didn’t think there would be a dinner theatre anymore. 

“You know you think you’re just this little small town or just a little dinner theater just to raise some money for the fair and to find out there’s so much support … it’s quite overwhelming,” said Bontje. 

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