“The show must go on” was an apt motto for the Red Barn Theatre at Jackson’s Point in the Town of Georgina this year.

The company, celebrating its 60th anniversary (making it older than Stratford's), suffered a major setback when its main theatre space burned to the ground on April 18.

But two months later, the Red Barn opened at Keswick’s Stephen Leacock Theatre, its temporary home, with a production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (which premiered 60 years ago in the company’s first season), with acclaimed theatre/television actress Fiona Reid playing Amanda and Jonathan Crombie as Tom. Norm Foster’s comedy The Melville Boys fills the space next week.

“It was pretty devastating because ... both shows were designed for the space,” said artistic director Jordan Merkur.

“It’s a testament to the resourcefulness of people in theatre and to the interest in the community because I have to say it wouldn’t have happened without the Town of Georgina,” Merkur said.

The vigour of theatre in Ontario’s smaller communities, and its tenacious focus on Canadian dramas and musicals, may surprise stage buffs who rarely venture beyond Toronto.

But ASTRO (the Association of Summer Theatres ’Round Ontario), now celebrating its 25th season, has 22 companies from Cornwall to Windsor, Niagara Falls to Penetanguishene.

It includes venerable companies such as the Shaw and Stratford festivals, as well as smaller newcomers such as the Festival Players of Prince Edward County. Every year it lures a number of top performers and playwrights. The province’s countryside charm is an added bonus.

ASTRO acts as a sort of a collective marketing tool for big and small companies, producing brochures and maintaining an updated website of coming shows.

Coordinator Tim Chapman said the association helps to carry on “an old Ontario tradition” of bringing theatre to the people.

A personal favourite of Chapman’s is the Blyth Festival, in its 35th season, in the small eponymous town in southwestern Ontario.

“I’ve been in theatres around the world and ... to this day, (Blyth) is the only theatre I’ve been in where you see farmers sitting in the theatre with their tanned necks and arms and bulging biceps,” Chapman said.

Sarah Phillips, artistic director of the Festival Players of Prince Edward County, said the three-year-old company has three Canadian plays this season, all in “unique settings,” including an old converted church, a heritage park and a refurbished barn.

“Being out of the city, driving the country roads to get there, all adds to the experience. I like to think you get a little more for your money ... than ‘Oh, that was a good show.’ It’s idyllic,” Phillips said.

Working with local tourism people, packages include overnight stays at bed and breakfasts and picnic lunches combined with bicycle rentals and a matinee show, she added.

Attracting professional-quality actors, directors and stage crew from places like Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto has not been difficult. Since shows only run from Wednesday to Saturday, “they’ve got Sunday, Monday, Tuesday to go to the beach, visit farms, pick strawberries and have a country vacation for the other half of the time. It’s a pretty sweet deal,” Phillips said.

To explore Ontario theatres’ summer offerings, visit summertheatre.ca.

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To explore Ontario theatres’ summer offerings, visit www.summertheatre.ca

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