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The Registry Theatre Edition


The Origin Story

The Registry Theatre, located in Kitchener, Ontario, was the former land registry office for the county of Waterloo after its assembly in 1939. In 2001, it was revitalized as The Registry Theatre after being used by other organizations like the Waterloo Regional Police and Curling Hall of Fame over the years. Its roots as a cultural space began when JM Drama, a local community theatre group, were in search of a space where they could produce their annual shows. JM Drama fundraised and took out a loan from the City of Kitchener to purchase and transform the historical Art Deco building into a cozy 150 seat venue. Since JM Drama would only be occupying it for a portion of the year, they decided to offer the space up to the community. 
“The Registry Theatre had an opportunity to grow organically and become what it was meant to be instead of having a prescribed role and function as a facility. Everyone who uses it, makes it what they want it to be instead of the other way around,” says Sam Varteniuk, General Manager of The Registry Theatre.

The Registry Team on Community Engagement

Sam describes this organic form of operations as a “three-pillar approach”:
  1. Rentals – Rentals represent half of the activity that happens at The Registry. Each rental is approached as a partnership with the ultimate goal of wanting to set their partners up to succeed. Many of the rentals come from volunteer, community-based groups. When needed the staff at The Registry will offer up their time to mentor or connect them with proper technicians so the groups can achieve their goals. 
  2. Presenting – The Registry focuses on the presentation and cultivation of local talent. As a result, many of their rental clients have turned into official partnerships.
  3. Community Theatre Producing - Altruism and community mindedness is key to the success of The Registry which combines the rental and presenting “pillars” of The Registry’s operations. 
Artistic Director, Lawrence McNaught also notes that operating pro-actively is key to building relationships with different communities in the surrounding area. These initiatives started in small ways like programming The Registry’s Baroque Music Series with entirely French music and presenting it in partnership with the local French Association. Facilitating this partnership offered The Registry with the opportunity to directly connect with the local French community.
Over the years, The Registry Theatre has become an incubator for the arts in the City of Kitchener. When asked about certain events that they felt were particularly “community engaged”, both Sam and Lawrence spoke of a theatrical production called, “The Arab-Israeli Cookbook” and a site-specific, immersive dance experience, “Porchview Dances”.

The Arab-Israeli Cookbook

JM Drama began to expand their season by producing a spring show. Long-time board member of JM Drama, Bruce Cameron, came into contact with the script of The Arab-Israeli Cookbookwritten by Robin Soans. The play featured a series of vignettes based on interviews with people whom Soans had encountered during his travels in the Middle East. Particularly in Gaza, Israel and Palestine. The through-line for each of these vignettes surround the food from the geographical regions while tying into personal narratives of traumatic events in that area as a result of political and religious conflicts. 
In order to grant the rights to the script, the playwright wanted a plan for ancillary, community engaged activities. These activities would supplement the production of the play and launch community conversations about the conflicts in the Middle East. Naturally, The Registry began to engage with community partners which included the Kitchener Public Library, The City of Kitchener, the Centre for International Governance and Innovation of Kitchener and Waterloo and the local universities.
Some of the programmings included: the Inshallah Choir, a multifaith and multicultural choir, singing music from the Islamic and Jewish Traditions. In addition, lectures were presented by social innovation organizational leaders like Jasmine Habib, the Executive Director of the Centre for International Governance and Innovation of Kitchener and Waterloo. There was also a series of documentary screenings on religion and music, which were created and directed by The Registry’s very own, Lawrence McNaught when he worked as a producer for VisionTV. The Registry also engaged the local farmers market to have an evening of cooking and food history classes on the meals featured in the play. 
The result of these community activities? Conversation. Amidst these various supplementary activities, there were open discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sam described it as a "no sugar coating" experience and some heated dialogue arose, which ultimately lead to forward moving conversations for cultural understanding in their community. 

The experience of working on The Arab-Israeli Cookbook has become a model for how The Registry Theatre would engage their community in the future.

Porch View Dances

This immersive and site-specific dance project was the first of its kind in Kitchener. It involved Kaeja d’Dance, a professional contemporary dance company based in Toronto working with families from Kitchener, presented in partnership with The Registry. Porch View Dances engages everyday people as creators, storytellers, and performers – many of whom have never danced before. Audience members travel from house to house to see new dance works presented on the front lawns and porches of community members. The Registry also engaged the Neighbourhood Association, the Contemporary School of Dance and other local businesses like the farmers’ market for the big finale and outreach. 


Watch Sam Varteniuk's video on the Kitchener experience of Porch View Dances below: 

Porch View Dances sparked Sam Varteniuk and Lawrence McNaught's interest in breaking down the walls of The Registry and making the whole City of Kitchener a performance space, for everyone.

The Take Away

The biggest takeaway for Sam and Lawrence: do not only find out what your community is interested in seeing but help them realize what they are capable of doing and get them to do it.
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Table of Contents

Past Editions

Click here for an update on the ArtsEngageCanada Workshops!

New Resources

The Presenter

All-Round Information


Begin: Building Relationships


Engaging Matters - Evaluating Community Engagement


The New Work of Building Civic Practices 

New Civic Practice Case Studies


Advice Column

  • Be willing to absorb risk
  • Be fair
  • Set your partners up to succeed
  • Be honest about what you can offer
Trying to confirm trust before undertaking a meaningful project together is impossible – so you have to do the work in order to build that trust.
Ontario Presents gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation for the development of Arts Engage Canada: 

Ontario Presents gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the following funders: 

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