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Sudbury man turns passion for the arts into a thriving community performance arts group

Community support and involvement is the key to performance groups ongoing success
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Mark Mannisto, founder and president of the Sudbury Performance Group (supplied photo)

It was about 20 years ago when a teenager spent hours on public transit with one goal in mind: to go on his very first audition for a local production of an adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol.’

Extremely nervous and having no expectations, all he knew is he wanted to be on stage. In the end, he earned a role in the chorus, but also received something bigger that day; a passion for the arts that he now shares with the Greater Sudbury Area.

The teen from that story is Mark Mannisto, founder and president of the Sudbury Performance Group (SPG). SPG offers musical theatre, music and stand-up comedy to Sudbury audiences. He said that singular experience was the catalyst that shaped his future.

“All I wanted to do at that point was just to have a chance to perform and I was bitten by the bug,” Mannisto said. “Here I am almost 30 years later and I’ve started the Sudbury Performance Group and I don’t think I would have done this had I not been given the opportunity to perform way back when in my teens.”

Mannisto has been involved in the arts and culture scene in Sudbury in different capacities since 1995, working for a number of organizations such as Cinéfest Sudbury, TVOntario and Theatre Cambrian. He’s also worked extensively in the local music scene as well as in the provincial and national comedy scene.

In 2016, Mannisto decided he wanted to start an organization that focused on music, theatre and comedy, and give local artists a platform, and opportunity, to perform.  

“I really wanted to give these people an opportunity to showcase their craft in Northern Ontario, and so I had the idea of starting SPG and focus on those three areas of the arts,” he said, adding that nowhere in Sudbury was this being offered collectively and on a year-round basis. 

In 2017, and with an initial donation of $360.00, SPG was launched. Mannisto said he gathered 12 of his former colleagues for the new board and they decided to start by hosting occasional shows. As they evolved, however, they realized audiences really enjoyed and supported SPG so they decided to expand.

“Audiences really gravitated to what we’d been doing and we’ve just been blessed to be given these opportunities to, not only give this to the artists, but to the audiences as well,” he said.

Currently, SPG offers two annual musical productions that in the past have included We Will Rock You, Godspell, Chicago, and All Shook Up dinner theatre, past productions The Ladies Foursome and Sealed for Freshness, and regular stand-up comedy nights at the New Trevi Restaurant, where they also host their fundraising Porketta Bingo. They have hosted Derek Seguin, Jon Dore and WWE Superstar Mick Foley. Mannisto said their biggest achievement is the creation of the Northern Arts Festival in 2020, which is currently in its second edition.   

Since the pandemic they’ve had to adapt by going virtual, including their stand-up performances and their  SPG Youth Company, but they’re hopeful they can resume this program in person this summer.

Mannisto said SPG is truly a labour of love for the arts in Sudbury, and they’re grateful for the strong community support that helps them share the arts and give their community its colour. 

“I always use the analogy of the colouring book,” he said. “You have your outlines and you have your drawing that in this case is the City of Greater Sudbury, but it’s groups like SPG, YES Theatre and Cinéfest that add the colour and what makes the pictures beautiful to look at.”

To learn more about SPG’s upcoming events, click here call 705-662-8518 email spg@sudburyperfomance.ca or check out their Facebook page for all the latest information.