From the street – Bank, off Second – it’s but a billboard and a small door. But squeeze your way in, scale its narrow staircase and negotiate its equally tapered halls, and discover charming loft-style studios teeming with aspiring actors, novice improvisers and diminutive dancers.
Welcome to The Acting Company, the city’s newest recreational performance facility.
“We wanted to provide an intimate venue for emerging and established artists to perform their work,” explains John Muggleton, the actor-entrepreneur who, along with the equally talented and enterprising Chris Ralph, is a founding father of The AC. “Until we opened, finding an affordable theatre space for 50 or 60 people was almost impossible in this city.”
And indeed, Muggleton and Ralph needed that much space; Ottawa’s theatre scene is blooming like a Dow’s Lake tulip bed.
“Young people today are staying in Ottawa and creating their own theatre rather than packing off to Toronto,” explains Muggleton. “There’s a very exciting undercurrent of emerging artists in this town right now.”
Which is why, after a mere six months in business, the AC is already a known commodity. That and the fact that Muggleton, for many years the marketing man behind the venerable Ottawa Little Theatre, can hustle like he’s in a production of ‘Glengarry Glenn Ross.’
“OLT is an amazing facility,” Muggleton, who will be leaving his post there in April, reflects. “Over 55,000 people walk through those doors each season. As a result, the Director of Marketing has the luxury to think big when it comes to putting bums in the seats and promoting upcoming events and workshops. With the AC, from the start, Chris and I both agreed that a fair amount of our budget would go to marketing in order to build up and maintain a successful business. OLT has definitely given me a ‘never let up’ attitude when it comes to marketing and promotion!”
Hence, the AC’s diverse identities. Already the place has hosted dance classes (from ballet to hip-hop,) CD and book launches and video and photo shoots, to name but a few of its endless uses. And who knows who else might rent its fully equipped rehearsal, meeting and performance spaces?
It’s bread and butter, though, as the name suggests, is acting. For their many performance-oriented workshops – daytime, evening and weekend classes, for kids, youth adults and seniors – Muggleton and Ralph have handpicked a cross-section of Ottawa’s best known acting teachers, from one-time Great Canadian Theatre Company regular and Canadian TV staple Robert Bockstael to The Ottawa School of Speech and Drama’s Amanda Lewis.
“John and I have both taught in Ottawa for a number of years,” says Ralph, “so we know most of the teachers in town. We look for people who are teachers first and actors second. We also want to work with people we like and have fun with. We want our classes to be fun for students so we want lighthearted and supportive teachers.”
No doubt to pick up the slack where the now defunct OSSD left off.
“There are a number of good schools in Ottawa so we expect everyone will pick up a few students,” theorizes Ralph.
“We think that you have to earn the public’s trust and provide services that people really want,” says Muggleton.
And right now, people really want The Acting Company.
All photos in article taken by On Stage Magazine photographer, David Pasho.