Skip to content

‘Big changes’ at Sudbury Theatre Centre as it attempts to reboot after tough pandemic

Theatre centre recently parted ways with artistic director John McHenry 

There have been some big changes at Sudbury Theatre Centre lately, and more are yet to come.

In early March, STC artistic director John McHenry suddenly left the theatre company, cryptically announcing his departure by tweeting just three words: “Exit stage left.”

Sudbury Theatre Centre board co-president John Dow explained that McHenry’s contract was up in June, and the theatre centre chose not to renew it.

The theatre centre also decided to cancel its final main stage production of the season, a one-woman show called “This One,” that was to run in late April and early May, and that McHenry was supposed to direct. This wasn’t announced until weeks after McHenry’s departure.

Dow said because McHenry had nothing left to do with his contract at STC, he opted to depart early. 

“We’re honouring the contract,” he said. “We’re paying him for the rest of the contract.”

McHenry was originally brought on as artistic director at STC in early 2018, in the middle of the theatre centre’s 2017-2018 season, when the theatre centre was struggling financially.

He said at the time he looked forward to helping the theatre company “get out of the mess they're in.”

McHenry staged popular shows with his eye on the dollar, as well as cheaper one-person productions.

Canada Revenue Agency data shows the theatre centre did post more revenue than expenses in both 2018 and 2019, and even in 2020, there was a small deficit. The period ending June 30, 2021 saw a $50,000 shortfall.

In March 2020, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, cancelling live performances. The entire 2020-2021 season was eventually scuttled, but STC returned for its 2021-22 season last fall.

Dow said Sudbury Theatre Centre took a financial hit on the first three plays of the current season, as it was having trouble getting people out during the pandemic, and the decision was made to pull the plug for the fourth show.

Ticket sales were slow on "This One" as well, the theatre centre said.

Because STC is still running at half-capacity to ensure social distancing, supposing tickets for the spring show had sold out, “even a full theatre means half-full,” Dow said.

“It's not easy to have nobody in the theatre for basically two years,” he said. “That would hurt anybody.”

A new general manager, Scott Denniston, was brought on at STC in early March.

“There have been some big changes here at STC,” said Denniston in an email blast to patrons last week.

“It took us a while to get our ducks in a row, but we are excited to tell you about the upcoming plans for the rest of this season! Thanks for your patience over the past couple of weeks while we’ve been solidifying these changes.”

He said STC has partnered with YES Theatre to exchange existing tickets for “This One” to the YES Theatre musical being hosted by STC this summer.

“This show will be announced April 18, and our box office staff will work to contact each existing ticket holder and subscribers to rebook their tickets,” Denniston said.

Sudbury native Leisa Way brings her show “Rock n’ Roll is Here to Stay” to STC June 15-17. Tickets go on sale soon.

“Our board of directors have been working hard to ensure the artistic vision for the future is one that is exciting for audiences, and really brings life and energy to this space,” Denniston said, in the email.

“Thanks again for your understanding as we navigate these changes. We’re excited to see you at the theatre.”

Dow explained that the arts community is experiencing a “reboot” downtown, with Place des Arts about to open, as well as YES Theatre announcing that they’re going to build an outdoor theatre on Durham Street.

There’s also the potential for the Junction East project moving forward.

Junction East is a proposed 62,000-square-foot municipal building to be located on Shaughnessy Street (close to Sudbury Theatre Centre) in downtown Sudbury.

It is expected to include a new central library, the Art Gallery of Sudbury and potential future partners including the Sudbury Theatre Centre and Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association. 

Dow said there is a lot of uncertainty currently surrounding the project, and STC is unsure of what its relationship with the project will be at this point.

Still, STC is moving forward.

“We want to put together something that's going to complement that and evolve the city,” Dow said. “So we want to reboot ourselves because there seems to be so much effort trying to reboot downtown. We want to be a part of it. That means we have to change.”

He said people should expect an announcement from STC later this spring.

Dow said Sudbury Theatre Centre, which recently celebrated its 50th birthday, very much plans to be around for its next season. “We’re not dead,” he said.


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

Read more