Theatre first: VPP sells out Church Basement Ladies before first curtain closes


David Hogan has never seen anything like it.

The co-artistic director at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia says the first show of the season, Church Basement is sold out just one day into the season. And that, he says will be good for Petrolia’s economy.

Last season, for the first year in recent memory, VPP made a slight profit. With the improving economy and a strong playbill, Hogan says the trend is continuing.

VPP added two shows to the Canadian premier of Church Basement Ladies, which have now sold out. “The entire show is sold out,” says Hogan. “That has never happened here, that has never happened wherever I’ve been,” says Hogan who has worked at the Stratford and Shaw Festivals and the Drayton Theatre in the past. “We’ve opened a show and it was sold out later but this is during our first preview – which was sold out – we sold out…it’s amazing; overwhelming.”

And the trend is growing. The Fiddler on the Roof show is already 60 percent sold. The last installment opened with only 40 percent of the tickets sold.

Hogan believes a stronger economy has a lot to do with the climbing ticket sales.

Theatres across the province are experiencing the strongest sales since the 2008 recession. In Stratford last year, attendance was up 11 percent and officials expect that trend to continue.

Hogan says many of the people coming to Petrolia are repeat visitors. “This is the third year of this team – now they’re starting to trust and they’re going to come and trust the entertainment,” he says.

“My second theory (of why Church Basement Ladies sold out) is the title of the show, it doesn’t mean anything it’s just fun,” he says.

“I asked someone why they bought a ticket and they said ‘Oh it sounds like fun.’”

The artistic director adds the customer service at the VPP is also a big seller.

“I talked to someone today who said ‘Look at this theatre, this lobby, greeted by five people all with a smiling face; this is the place to be!’ He had been here a number of times before; he didn’t say anything about the show but was talking about everything else around it.”

Hogan says it is obviously exciting for the VPP staff and actors, but he says the increasing ticket sales should benefit the community as well.

Richard Poore, director of performing arts in Petrolia, estimates about 30,000 people come to Petrolia for the theatre. This year, more tour buses have booked tickets for the first show of the season than booked all of last year.

“This is good for all of us…if we’re going to clock in 400 people a show it’s going be good for the people of Petrolia,” says Hogan noting he talked to a number of the local restaurants who are “jam packed” for lunch and dinner.

Merchants are trying to take advantage of that surge. Visitors will be personally welcomed with signs in the store windows mentioning the names of some of the groups at the theatre that day. A small marketing committee has been formed to investigate some additional ideas – including horse drawn carriage rides  – although officials concede some of the ideas may have to wait for the next tourist season.


  1. Congrats to Petrolia for this outstanding theatrical achievement. I publish the blog Stratford Festival Reviews, and as David noted, I’ve never seen such great box office business before a show has even opened!

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