Entertainment Local

Rolling out the red carpet at Festival Hall Centre for the Arts for Gowan, Carla Collins, Ben Rutz and Carl Dixon

By Pembroke Daily Observer

The celebrities are ready and the red carpet is being rolled out, all in support of Festival Hall Centre for the Arts.

"Well the idea has been a few years in the making but we have been kinda busy," Festival Hall director Rick Wharton laughs. "Time to call in some friends in 'the business' and have a grand, spectacular evening of entertainment in support of the venue itself, Festival Hall."

Communities in Renfrew County have proven they can generously step up to the plate when it comes to fundraising initiatives.

"Recently there's been the MRI campaign, Syrian refugee sponsorship organizations, galas for hospitals and long-term care facilities, Algonquin College initiatives or donating to the food bank programs, women in crisis, sports tournaments and the like. All deserved for sure, yet the time is now to support our wonderful theatre. Sixty per cent of theatres rely on fundraising and we kick that off (here for Festival Hall) on April 21st," Wharton said.

The Ottawa Valley's largest performing arts venue, Festival Hall will host a spectacular night of entertainment and a celebration of the arts on the 21st.

Wharton said, Festival Hall Centre for the Arts is the Valley's community theatre and a venue that supports the arts and the community itself.

The First Annual Red Carpet event at Festival Hall is a gala with a twist. First of all, there really will be an actual red carpet, with opportunities for some laughs and selfies, hosted by popular jazz poet, the famed Jef Farquharson, who has come to the Valley many times in support of his friend Rick Wharton.

Wharton said he wanted this gala accessible to ALL who enjoy a good show and support the arts, and to that end tickets are available starting at only $40. Many other galas charge $100 and up for tickets. For the first hour and a half after doors open, patrons will enjoy three local craft beer stations featuring product sampling. The brewers are Big Rig, Square Timber and Whitewater Brewing. The bar and canteen will also be open.

In addition, many Pembroke restaurants that benefit from busy nights on show days are graciously providing lots of food samplings. Festival Hall has a direct impact on economic development, a fact voiced by owners of local hotels, restaurants and shops.

Wharton said, the arts and Festival Hall is a great way for entrepreneurs to give back and to promote their own businesses. To that end, there will also be a silent auction table supported by both local and out of town businesses, including some very cool music and entertainment memorabilia. There will also be some special guests in the crowd.

At 7:30 p.m., the show will start with a memorable performance of the anthem by none other than Ben Rutz, fiddle player for Johnny Reid. Hosting the show is Carla Collins - a widely known, larger than life actress/radio host/comedienne who is flying up from California to support her friend. Carl Dixon, singer with the Guess Who, April Wine and Coney Hatch, celebrated radio personality and author, volunteered to come and lend his talents for a few opening songs.

"Carl just called me out of the blue and said, 'How Can I Help?' He is an amazing talent as well as an inspirational, beautiful person," said Wharton.

The headliner is the world renowned Lawrence Gowan, one of the most talented Canadian performers out there who will also sing and play Styx numbers, for whom he has been lead singer and keyboardist for almost 15 years. A real showman, a larger than life personality, and an incredible pianist, Gowan has agreed to come to Festival Hall for this, likely to be the most memorable evening in Festival Hall's 36-year history. People have been ordering tickets from all over Ontario and the United States for this event. There are still over 200 tickets to be sold to meet targets. There are also a few select VIP sponsorship seats available which include a private meet and greet backstage.

During his four years at Festival Hall, managing director Rick Wharton has pulled off some amazing productions, thanks largely to his 20-year history and his contacts in the entertainment, music, comedy, film and production business. 

Gracing the stage at Festival Hall have been music legends such as Marty Stuart, Randy Bachman, Ian Thomas, Rik Emmett, Marc Jordan, Cindy Church, Murray McLachlan, John McDermott, Jason Blaine, Leahy, Step Crew, Valdy, Echoes of Erin, Frank Mills, Hotel California, Abba Story, McCartney Years, Barra McNeills, Corb Lund, Michael Burgess, The Spoons and Malcolm Burn of Boy's Brigade.

Comedy-wise, the Festival Hall stage has been graced by such renowned comedians as Mary Walsh, Women Fully Clothed (all currently starring in the new My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 movie), Gerry Dee (Mr. D), Derek Edwards, Ron James, Glen Foster, Mike McDonald"¦plus the finals for the Funniest Person in the Valley Contest produced by Wharton for the Canadian Comedy Awards.

Special performances at the hall have included The Vinyl Cafe, The Trudeau Stories, three annual Valley Docfest Documentary Film Festivals with special guests from Canada and the USA, Sing-along Grease, Songs for Sab, various children's productions and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The theatre is also home to the annual the Kiwanis Music Festival, the Sears Drama Festival, Streetlight Theatre and their amazing semi-annual musical theatre productions, the Pembroke Symphony Orchestra's outstanding performances, Michelle's School of Performing Arts and Starz in Motion , Ateyo Dance troupes, U-Turn for youth, and more.  

Wharton has certainly done what seems impossible and is grateful with the budget provided by the Town of Petawawa, the Township of Laurentian  Valley and the City of Pembroke.

"A lot of blood, sweat, tears and of course passionate, dedicated volunteers are what keeps this place going," Wharton said. "In four years, tens of thousands of people have enjoyed performances and have been delighted to see new staging, curtains, technical equipment, new box office and lobby, an online ticketing system, a website, and more."

The new goals for the theatre are outdoor signage and lighting, improved accessibility, renovation of the gallery and upper lobby to facilitate the increasing number of rentals by business for functions, and to purchase, rather than rent, sound equipment.

Wharton noted that it has been frustrating that Festival Hall has received no federal or provincial grants in the past few years.

"That is going to change," he vows. "The theatre and team is stronger than it ever was and is growing"¦this even with the downgrading of Pembroke by MoneySense magazine due to lack of arts and culture - deemed a vital component of a healthy, attractive community."

In an effort to showcase their commitment to the arts facility, many donors have purchased Hollywood-like stars on the Wall of Fame. Here, patrons of the arts, family members, businesses, or in memoriams are showcased in a prominent way.

Wharton said, other donors have not wanted their name in lights, but have preferred to instead commit to purchasing a half dozen tickets for each and every show, which they either use for themselves, their staff, their customers, or they donate back to the hall to be given to people who otherwise are not financially able to enjoy the performances.

There are also sponsorship opportunities for advertising in the gala program through the donation of silent auction items, and more.

Anyone who enjoys the theatre either as a patron or as a user group is urged to come out to this event, buy a star, and show that they want the arts to stay alive and thrive in Pembroke.

More information can be found at the website www.festhall.ca, by calling the box office or director  Rick Wharton at 613-735-2182, or emailing events@festhall.ca or the festhalltickets@gmail.com.