Cultivating Creativity: Bold dinner theatre in downtown Belleville

By Fiona Campbell/Quinte Arts Council

Master abstract expressionist Mark Rothko has just landed the biggest commission in the history of modern art — a series of murals for New York’s famed Four Seasons Restaurant. For two years Rothko works feverishly with his young assistant Ken in his NYC studio. But with Ken’s experience comes confidence, and Rothko faces the agonizing possibility that his crowning achievement could also become his undoing.

This is the premise behind RED, a six-time Tony award-winning play written by John Logan, and produced by Prince Edward County’s Shatterbox Theatre.

Starring local actors Pat Larkin (Rothko) and Jacob Dey (Ken), RED is a show that fits into the company’s mandate to bring “unconventional, reimagined and inspired works” to the community.  While the 2019 season at the Regent Theatre in Picton closed last weekend, patrons who still want to see the play can enjoy a different theatre experience this weekend: dinner and a show at Capers in downtown Belleville.

But this is no ordinary show.

“We thought this show would translate well not only in a big space like the Regent but a really small intimate space. The dialogue in this play is captivating and when you’re close to the actors the energy you get off of them is incredible,” says Shatterbox artistic director Georgia Papanicolaou. “You get pulled in and you feel like you’re in the heart of this artist’s studio and your privy to all the secrets that he has about his work and art. You get to actually see him and his assistant prep and paint a canvas right in front of your eyes. It’s gorgeous to watch.”

Dinner theatre has a storied history, and it’s a tradition that Melanie Hilmi, Capers owner and manager, wants to continue.

“We were presented the opportunity a few years ago by Sarah and Mike Kirby of The Village Theatre to partner up and begin hosting dinner theatre at Capers. We had the space and they had the concept so we went with it,” says Hilmi. “It was new to us all but after a few years we nailed down the formula and hosted multiple successful dinner theatre events. We took the event space, brought in a stage with a full set and lighting for each performance, and transformed the room into a theatre experience.”

Hilmi says their dinner theatre creates a unique experience that brings a more social element to the traditional method of viewing a play: theatre goers are served the first two courses of the meal before the show, allowing friends to gather and share a meal within the theatre space. “They dine in the banquet space with the stage, set, and lighting in full view in anticipation of the start of the show,” she says. At intermission, patrons are served dessert and coffee or tea, encouraging more socializing.  “Whether it’s a comedy or a drama the feedback of the evening is always extremely positive,” says Hilmi.

Adds Papanicolaou: “Audience goers can expect to see something they have never seen before and they will leave wanting to talk about what they just experienced. We strive to engage our audiences, present unique pieces and spark a dialogue. We’re placing them right in the heart of Mark Rothko’s studio. They will literally be feet away from the actors… It’s a delicate tango that these two characters have to navigate and the words and paint will come flying. The audience will be right in the midst of all of that. We promise the audience won’t get any paint on them!”

RED will be at Capers on Friday October 4 and Saturday October 5. Tickets are available at capers.ca/music.