Calgary Journal Online

Dinner theatre still breaking a leg in Calgary PDF Print E-mail
Written by MAYAN FREEBORN   
Friday, 13 August 2010 08:54

Times change, but the shows still go on at Jubilations and Stage West

The concept is pretty simple: a stage and a restaurant within the same four walls.  Entertain the belly, maybe toss back a cocktail, then sit back, digest and enjoy the show. But as technology advances, entertainment is available anywhere, anytime.  Movies can even be downloaded in the palm of a hand.  How will dinner theatre fare in the future?

Calgary dinner theatres are still able to draw in crowds. Stage West’s production of The Producers consistently
Photo courtesy of Stage West Dinner Theatre
Jubilations Dinner Theatre has been running in Calgary since November 2001.  

Syreeta Molsberry, theatre operations manager at Jubilations, says while attendance always depends on the particular show, business is good.

She says the majority of people who attend the shows are women ages 35 to 55.  She adds it tends to be women who purchase tickets, but often they bring along husbands and friends.

“We [also] have a lot of retired people who come here. They’re season ticket holders,” she says.

Molsberry adds certain shows attract a different demographic, such as Sexy Gals in the City from last summer, which brought in a younger crowd.

Jubilations is distinctive from other types of theatre in Calgary because the shows are often interactive for the audiences.

“They’re usually a take-off of something,” says Molsberry. “For example, we have ‘Law and Order: The Canadian Files’. When you enter, [it’s as if] you’re at the RCMP training barracks in Regina. So as soon as [the] doors [of the theatre open] you enter a completely different world.”

Calgary’s other dinner theatre venue, Stage West, has been open since 1982.

Joel Conley, director of sales and marketing at Stage West Theatre Restaurants, says people come to Stage West for a good time and business is steady.

“They [usually] aren’t the drama and artsy type,” he says. And similar to Jubilations Dinner Theatre, Stage West attracts mostly a 50-something crowd.

Conley says recently there has been a noticeable influx of younger people attending the shows.

“[They’re] not necessarily buying season tickets, but definitely younger crowds are coming in and enjoying our more popular shows,” he says. “We know we’re doing something right with the younger people we’re seeing coming in.”

The productions that do well for Stage West are often ones that resonate well with the audience such as British Invasion, a musical revue of famous ’60s British pop songs.

Conley says with big shows, such as The Producers, people know what to expect from it; with a lesser-known show, the season ticket holders are the ones to see it first, then if the show is good other people will come.

“You come, you have dinner, you have drinks and you have theatre. It’s a whole night of an all-in-one spot.”

— Bob Cunningham

Though business is good at Jubilations, Molsberry has noticed the younger generation isn’t as interested in theatre. Still, she feels theatre remains a strong medium.

“It’s the same as going to a really great concert,” she says. “You’re not going to stop going to concerts because you can download the DVD of it. There’s something different when you’re in the live presence of it.”

According to Bob Cunningham, business partner at Jubilations Dinner Theatre, although there are only two main dinner theatres in Calgary, there isn`t room for another one. And in terms of dinner theatre sticking around in the future, Cunningham says Jubilations in particular will always be looking for what’s next.

What the theatre tries to go for is “whatever the new thing everybody is talking about,” he says.  For example, the theatre has done a spoof on Seinfeld in the past and now they are doing a spoof on Law and Order.

And it’s expected the demographic will remain steady. “I don’t think we’ll abandon our demographic altogether and try to focus on a new one,” notes Cunningham, adding Jubilations will keep marketing itself to the next generation of 40-year-olds.

Cunningham also says he doesn’t think dinner theatre will die out because people like having a different entertainment option. “Rather than [going to] dinner and a movie again for the 50th time this year,” he says, people can choose dinner theatre.

He adds that some people like to have a few drinks with dinner, and this way, they don’t have to drive from the restaurant to the theatre or have to find parking.

“It’s all kind of happening in the same place,” Cunningham explains. “You come, you have dinner, you have drinks and you have theatre. It’s a whole night of an all-in-one spot.”