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Theatre Sarnia production offers cup of holiday cheer

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In a Christmas season largely devoid of holiday entertainment, the Imperial Theatre and Theatre Sarnia are stepping up.

Executive director Brian Austin and a handful of volunteers are filming a unique Christmas special that can be viewed online Dec. 17 to 25.

“It’s a musical concert with a story line threaded through it,” says Austin, who’s working to keep the downtown theatre afloat despite being closed almost nine months ago.

The Imperial Theatre is owned by Theatre Sarnia and is a 600-seat community venue that has supported itself since opening in 1996.

The theatre’s board approved the as-yet unnamed production in October and work is moving at a breakneck speed, Austin said.

Sarnians Ian Alexander and Brent Wilkinson wrote the show, and Alexander is both the director and director of photography. Alexander went to film school and Austin has a background in film.

They intend a Christmas show with impressive production values, said Austin.

Amy Pacheco prepares to sing “I’ll be home for Christmas” from atop the Imperial Theatre marquis as the film crew sets up on Christina Street below.
Photo courtesy, Emily Nutson

“We constructed about 30 feet of dolly tracks so there’s lots of camera movement, and we have crane shots.

“The learning curve is huge but I’m really proud of what we’ve done,” he said.

Auditions attracted numerous video submissions; a sure sign the local theatre community is missing the stage.

About 20 dancers, singers and actors were selected and are working on the project as safely as possible, said Austin.

Shooting takes place throughout the theatre: on stage, in the house, the change rooms, even on top of the outdoor marquis. All the while, the dancers wear masks and maintain distancing.

The Colborne family, including Andrew, Tia and daughters Molly and Faye, are central to the story; so many scenes can be shot with people from within the same social bubble.

“We’re going through gallons of Lysol,” said Austin.  “My biggest fear is that someone gets sick.”

He called the Christmas film a test run to see if subsequent productions can be done safely and generate some revenue.

The fall and Christmas season are normally the Imperial Theatre’s most lucrative. Last year, with shows like the Nightingale Chorus, Theatre Sarnia’s Christmas show, professional concerts and Rock ‘n Roll Christmas, about 4,200 tickets were sold. All of them were cancelled this year.

Austin said he appreciates how much the community has supported the theatre with donations and fundraisers during the pandemic, and he hopes the online Christmas show will help.

Tickets are $20 per streaming, meaning an entire household can gather around to watch for that price. Austin expects the production to break even at 500 streams.

The show includes many seasonal favourites, old and new, including ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘Underneath the Tree’ with sets and costumes depicting various eras.


WHAT: A family Christmas film production by Theatre Sarnia.

WHEN: Streaming online Dec. 17 – 25. Purchasers will have 24 hours to view it.

TICKETS: $20, can be purchases online starting this week at Virtual tickets will be emailed.

The Arts Journal reflects Sarnia’s cultural life.  Send your story ideas to [email protected]

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