It’s impossible to work in the Windsor-Essex theatre industry without hearing about Joey Ouellette. For more than thirty years Ouellette’s Purple Theatre Company (PTC) was a creative behemoth in the region, producing more than 200 original plays and providing employment for dozens of actors – not to mention providing entertainment for hundreds, if not thousands, of patrons.
But when Mackenzie Hall jacked up its rental fees four years ago, the Purple Theatre Company – along with several other small theatre companies – found itself without a home. The new rates made Mackenzie Hall unaffordable. Ouellette decided to shut down PTC. Maybe it was for the best, he thought. After all, he’d been writing, producing, directing, and acting at a breakneck pace for decades. This could be an opportunity to step back and focus just on acting for a while, working with other companies.
That’s how Joey Ouellette ended up working with us at Post Productions in 2018.
Of course, we’d heard of him. We’d seen some of his plays. We knew his reputation. But we didn’t know the man.
I met him for the first time in the late spring of 2018, when he auditioned for our production of Equus. By this point he’d submitted a script to the first-ever Windsor-Essex Playwriting Contest. I’d read it, but we hadn’t made any decisions about the entries yet.
First impressions. Joey seemed to me extremely shy and polite. I was expecting a larger-than-life personality. The difference between the man I expected and the man I met was striking.
Then he got onstage and gave one of the best auditions I’d ever seen. And he kept doing that, adapting effortlessly to whoever he was partnered with. I remember thinking, “This man could play every character in the play”. I was floored.
Ouellette was cast as Frank Strang. Soon, the judging panel for the 2018 Windsor-Essex Playwriting Contest voted for his script, A Haunting in E Flat, as one of that year’s winners.
Now here we are. Between 2018 to this day in 2022, Joey Ouellette has acted in ten of our productions (Equus, Nothing But The Truth, American Buffalo, Fatboy, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Negatunity, Criminal Genius, Dead Bear, The Rhinoceros Woman, Squirrel Party), he’s won the playwriting contest twice and his second winning script (Pirate Arrack on the 1C Bus Going Downtown) will be produced at the end of this year, and he now teaches courses in our Theatre Skills Education Program. Last year Fay Lynn and I started writing with him, a rewarding experience we hope to continue. Joey Ouellette has become a regular collaborator with Post Productions.
Now it’s time for The Purple Theatre Company to return. Several months ago, Ouellette approached us with an idea: he’d like to resurrect Purple Theatre Company and enter into a partnership with Post Productions. Purple Theatre Company would operate out of The Shadowbox Theatre, which would now have two resident theatre companies in addition to the guest companies that perform there. We would share resources, help promote each other. We’d learn, grow, and succeed together.
We immediately agreed. Post Productions had already entered into a partnership of a different sort with Waawiiyaatanong Feminist Theatre (formerly Windsor Feminist Theatre) in 2020, a company Ouellette has worked with many times. And as you may have guessed by now, we really enjoy working with him. We’ve developed a lot of mutual respect and trust since 2018, so this seemed like a natural next step.
At the heart of our partnership with PTC (and WFT) are shared passions and shared values. Purple Theatre Company, like Post Productions, is passionate about creativity and storytelling, about all of the arts that come together in theatre, about the power of shared live experiences, and about encouraging and supporting local artists.
We also share a conviction that artists and technicians in theatre should be financially compensated for their work. Because it is work. It’s skilled labour. Neither Purple Theatre Company nor Post Productions ever seeks to make more money than any of the artists and technicians who work with us.
We’re starting our partnership with a co-production in July: a sketch comedy show called Bite Me, Big Time! – for which we recently held auditions. After that, Purple Theatre Company will regularly produce plays and hold rehearsals at The Shadowbox Theatre. And who can say what creative opportunities we might explore together in the future?
After enduring – and surviving! – more than two years of Covid-induced misery, we feel there’s cause for hope. This is a step in the right direction.