Arts + Culture

Goodbyes Are Only Temporary: Danforth, Coal Mine Theatre Is Not Going Anywhere

“We were going to find a place along the Danforth or we were just going to stop,” says Ted Dykstra, co-founder of the Coal Mine Theatre (CMT). The relocation of this admired East End theatre had one priority leading the search—to remain on the Danforth. “We feel very grateful and lucky,” says Ted of being able to stay along the Danforth at their new location, 2076 Danforth Ave., following a tragic fire at the previous location in September 2022.

For the past seven years, the CMT has been bringing never-before-seen theatre to this neighbourhood. Their ambition has been to bring highly acclaimed plays to Toronto. Despite the non-existent grants or support from municipal art councils, the CMT has managed to put on seven seasons of award-winning productions. Plays such as Marjorie written by Jordan Hamilton, The Winter’s Tale written by William Shakespeare, and The Mother F***er with the Hat written by Stephen Adly Guirgis have not only been nominated but have won multiple Toronto Theatre Critics and Dora Mavor Moore awards.

We belong to the East End and its citizens!

Along with the prestigious and well-deserved accolades, the theatre’s true success can be measured in its community’s outpouring of love and support. “We belong to the East End and its citizens! We love being here, and our audience has made us never want to leave the Danforth,” says Ted. The mutual appreciation can be seen in the community’s response to the CMT’s fundraising drive following the September 2022 fire. When the theatre was forced to close its doors, the CMT reached out to their community through social media, newspaper features, and their website to ask for donations to help with the financial stress that came with relocation. They were astounded at the response: more than seven hundred people donated to their fundraising drive, raising over $300,000.

Despite the grief and stress of saying goodbye to their original location, the CMT chose to use their sudden departure from 1454 Danforth Ave. as an opportunity. They took to Twitter to share the news with their community, which included a quote from Aristotle that read, “Change in all things is sweet.” Ted explains how he and his co-founder, Diana Bentley, look at everything that happens in life with acceptance being the only way forward. Prior to the fire, they had already acknowledged the growing need for a new space that would allow them to welcome more guests to their sold-out productions. With the relocation, the CMT was able to increase their seating from 80 to 120, ensuring that when it came time to welcome guests back, they could do so in greater numbers and with greater comfort, “all while keeping the intimacy of our community theatre,” adds Ted.

This theatre has truly been built on a foundation of love, not only for the Danforth, but also for theatre, art, storytelling, and being able to share distinguished scripts from around the world. “It’s one of the things that makes us singular,” says Ted of putting on productions that have already been successful rather than premiering original pieces. The CMT has been focused on bringing worldrenowned plays closer to home rather than having their audience travel to New York or London to see such performances. At the same time, producing original pieces has always been of interest to the CMT—it had just never been the right time.

When the theatre was faced with the news of unexpected change, they chose to use their new beginning as an opportunity to try something they had never done before. The CMT plans to open 2024 with the first-ever premiere of an original piece by Dykstra and Steven Mayoff. Titled Dion: A Rock Opera, it is based on The Bacchae, the Greek tragedy by Euripides. They are thrilled to be able to perform original productions and cannot wait to share these works with their loyal theatregoers. Additional original productions to watch for include The Meeting by Kat Gauthier, a hyper-realist drama looking at the cultural shift following the #MeToo movement, and Poor Dennis by Bentley, a comedic love story about two people crossing paths after time apart.

The first of two productions this summer is a play called The Sound Inside, running from May 11 until May 28. Written by Adam Rapp and critically acclaimed from its time on Broadway, the play follows the unexpected bond between Bella, a Yale professor, and one of her students, Chris, whom she mentors. Their lives become unexpectedly intertwined after Bella makes a surprising request of Chris, and neither are certain whether he will be able to rise to the challenge.

The second production of the summer, opening July 13 and running until July 30, is The Effect written by Lucy Prebble (one of the writers from the current hit television series Succession). “It’s a play about two doctors who used to be married and two patients in an institution that tests drugs. The two patients are either in love because they are on the drug or because they’re actually in love,” explains Ted. Tickets are sold individually or in a package to see all three productions of the 2023 season.

Bringing productions such as these to the East End of Toronto is the CMT’s way of sharing its love of theatre with its community. “Because we are East Enders, we know what it’s like to drive to the West End or downtown,” says Ted. “Parking is crazy and meals are way more expensive. This way you get to walk to the theatre, which is something people love.” The CMT takes pride in being a true community theatre, but “in all the good ways of community,” adds Ted. The CMT is a community theatre because it opens its space to others, from craft pop-up sales in their lobby to providing highly professional productions at affordable prices in hopes of welcoming every enthusiast of the arts.

The CMT is proud not only to call the Danforth its home, but to bring people together over a shared love of art, conversation, creativity, and everything that the neighbourhood has to offer. When asked what the Danforth community means to Ted and his team at the CMT, he says, “The awe only grows. We don’t exist without them.”

“If you want to see the best theatre artists in the country on a regular basis, doing incredible plays that challenge, entertain, and move you, look no further than the Coal Mine Theatre, steps from Woodbine Station. And book your tickets now, we always sell out!”

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