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Old 11-24-2008, 10:56 AM   #1
Auburn Annie
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Default Gord, 20 towels, and the Orillia Opera House

Theatre producer looks back
David Fanstone calls it quits after 22 years at Opera House
Posted By COLIN MCKIM, THE PACKET AND TIMES


In two decades of booking acts into the Orillia Opera House, David Fanstone has heard some unusual requests.

There was the portly Canadian songstress, travelling with a female companion, who required four roast chickens, cold and cut up, before bursting into song.

And the slinky, all-male vocal group that demanded six 40-ouncers of Corvoisier, Crown Royal, Drambuie and other premium brands of liquor.

One group of performers expected a hot, four-course meal to be catered to their crew of 13 between the sound check and the show.

But the strangest request came from legendary, Orilliaborn folksinger, Gordon Lightfoot, who asked for 20 hand towels in his performing contract.

The Nylons, who had performed a few weeks earlier, had used hand towels to wipe the sweat of their faces and necks before tossing them into the swaying crowd.

But that didn't seem to be Lightfoot's style, Fanstone thought at the time, his curiosity piqued.

Before the concert, Lightfoot and his band tuned up for an hour in one of the dressing rooms, said Fanstone.

"No one in the world ever tuned more than him."

And that's where the towels came in.

To ensure the instruments weren't jarred before the show, Lightfoot and his band had rolled the towels and taped them to the backs of moulded plastic chairs, sitting in a circle in the dressing room.

"I never saw anything like that," said Fanstone.

Persuading Lightfoot to play two concerts in Orillia in 1989 was the high point of his career as manager of the Opera House, says Fanstone, who has cut his ties with the historic theatre.

Previous managers had been trying for years, but Lightfoot had declined.

Fanstone can still remember the long lineup on a frigid February day when the tickets went on sale.

"It was insane. I had people so far out the door, I called a coffee truck."

By the end of the day there was so much cash in the box office, Fanstone asked for a police escort to the bank.

With the quick sellout, Lightfoot agreed to perform a second concert, which also sold out in a day.

Despite being visibly nervous in front of his hometown, Lightfoot put on terrific shows, said Fanstone.

"He had a really good time and loved the show. It was a really neat moment."

Born in Niagara Falls, Fanstone was involved in theatre in high school and graduated from Queen's University with a double major in English and drama.

He came to Orillia in 1986 to become manager of the Orillia Opera House.

In 1989, he founded the Sunshine Festival Theatre Company, which produced more than 100 shows until its demise in 2005.

The high point was 2004 when the dazzling production of Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "CATS" pulled in huge crowds and propelled the operation to one of its best years financially.

Another year that stands out is 1995, the 100th anniversary year of the Opera House, when "The Sound of Music" had an amazing run.

"We filled 9,000 seats in two weeks," said Fanstone.

"It was a magic year -- the variety, the quality of the acts, the sales. Everybody did well."

The main auditorium was named after Gordon Lightfoot that year and buses were lined up

In 1996, Casino Rama opened and summer theatre became a harder sell.

Bus loads of people come to Orillia from out of town, taking advantage of the Sunshine Getaway hotel and entertainment package, but the local support, roughly one-quarter of the ticket buyers, tailed off for three or four years after the casino opened, said Fanstone.

"That was our margin."

Those were tough years with many productions running in the red and debt piling up.

While "CATS" breathed new life into the company, the main summer show the next year -- "Jesus Christ Super Star" -- flopped.

"It was wonderful production, brilliantly realized. But it just wasn't anybody's cup of tea.

"Kiss Me Kate," which followed, didn't do much better, said Fanstone.

"It just kept compounding the losses."

Making money in summer theatre is no easy business, said Fanstone, who was bailed out by the city more years than not.

"There are only 20 musicals, like 'Oklahoma,' 'Brigadoon,' 'South Pacific,' 'Anything Goes'...and we had done them all."

Finally the city, having written off several hundred thousand dollars over the years, told Fanstone he had to sink or swim, with no further subsidies.

With the losses in 2005, the Sunshine Festival Theatre went bankrupt. Fanstone was out of a job.

Fanstone took a year off and returned in 2007 with a streamlined production company called Sunshine & Company.

It operated out of the compact 100- seat Studio Theatre and with smaller casts, simpler productions and lower overhead, finished in the black in its inaugural year.

Unfortunately this year, staging one of the shows -- "Are You Being Served" -- in the 700-seat auditorium backfired and flat ticket sales dragged the season into the red.

With the city unwilling to throw a life ring, Fanstone says he is done producing shows at the Opera House.

It's a tough way to go out, he says, uncertain what role he will play next.

Having written several dozen plays, many of which were performed by his companies over the years, Fanstone plans to keep writing for the theatre while searching for another job, most likely in another community.

But he doesn't really know. "Maybe I'll win the lottery and expand my garden."

Article ID# 1311402
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Old 11-25-2008, 08:10 AM   #2
Jesse Joe
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Default Re: Gord, 20 towels, and the Orillia Opera House

Quote:
Before the concert, Lightfoot and his band tuned up for an hour in one of the dressing rooms, said Fanstone.

"No one in the world ever tuned more than him."

And that's where the towels came in.

To ensure the instruments weren't jarred before the show, Lightfoot and his band had rolled the towels and taped them to the backs of moulded plastic chairs, sitting in a circle in the dressing room.
This is interesting !
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Old 11-25-2008, 11:16 AM   #3
charlene
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Default Re: Gord, 20 towels, and the Orillia Opera House

the boys love their instruments!
lol
at least Gord was past the days of boiling his strings so they didn't have to provide a hot plate and pot..

It's unfortunate that the Theatre didn't do well. The venue is beautiful there in Orillia but I guess times change and the old time theatre experience isn't that popular anymore in rural spots like that..
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Old 11-25-2008, 11:40 AM   #4
Jesse Joe
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Default Re: Gord, 20 towels, and the Orillia Opera House

Thanks Char ! But what was confusing me was that they tape the towels ?

I guess the guitars were inside the circle of chairs, leaning on the towels to stop them from falling... is this it ? Im french you know !
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Old 11-25-2008, 11:53 AM   #5
charlene
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Default Re: Gord, 20 towels, and the Orillia Opera House

he taped the towels to the backs of the chairs and then leaned the guitars on the chair backs..inside the circle he made with the chairs..(seats were facing out)
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Old 11-25-2008, 12:03 PM   #6
Jesse Joe
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Default Re: Gord, 20 towels, and the Orillia Opera House

Thanks that's how I finally saw it, took a little time... Boy Im only 52 going on 53. Will not see 70, like Tyson & Lightfoot. Or I'le have more than the voice gone !
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