Profile by Jane Ledwell
No reclining armchair or closed-in desk in Melvin Ford’s office—no time to sit. The manager of the King’s Playhouse is busy and plans to be even busier building up the repertoire and reputation of what he calls “the busiest theatre on PEI.” He says, “It feels like [summer] doesn’t end. We have 14 shows before Christmas. We’ve had 64 different live productions in 2009. That’s whopping numbers for a theatre this size.”
Melvin knew the work ahead when he “invented” his job managing the historic Playhouse, but he was passionate about doing it. “They were not looking for a manager here,” he says. “There was no position advertised,” he says. He started first through a job heading the Town of Georgetown’s Special Events and Promotions. “The theatre was sitting empty, and they wanted someone to take over running the movies (that were being screened there),” Melvin recalls. “Then I did the accounting, then the bookings for the Playhouse, and one thing led to the other.”
Until May he was doing the Town job and the Playhouse work—then the Town subsidized his Playhouse wages to let him work there more. “More,” to Melvin, meant about 70 to 80 hours a week, a challenging schedule for a parent to a blended family of six children under 12. His Board of Directors jokes that he is “paid weekly. Very weakly.”
Melvin is giddy from the recent announcement of more than $635,000 in government funding for repairs and expansion to the Playhouse, including a new foyer and rehearsal space. Melvin and the Board heard about the funding program that provided this grant four days before applications were due. They dropped everything to meet the deadline with a binder-sized application—“Everything typed, priced, signed, and sealed. Three quotes on everything: every tile, every board, all the sound and lights,” he says.
“We found out we were successful a week before the announcement, and we couldn’t tell anyone,” Melvin says. “We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, it was so exciting. Imagine: here’s this little theatre in a town of 600. The theatre seats half the town. And we’ve got about $650,000 to upgrade, including everything to make us go ‘green.’ It’s very emotional to me—I will get to run a million-dollar theatre facility.”
Melvin says, “It’s the little extras we provide that make the Playhouse special.” A recent touring act said they’d never experienced hospitality like they did in Georgetown. “We greet them with bottles of wine on ice. We get homemade veggie trays custom-made for them. About 90% of guests stay at the four-star Georgetown Inn, with a certified chef to serve their meals and a baby grand piano downstairs. Then they are greeted by incredible staff at the Playhouse, who make you feel like the most important person in the world today.” Then, there’s the theatre itself, “the proper size,” he says, for an intimate show: “Even in the back row, you are still face-to-face.”
Georgetown “has made the transition,” Melvin says, from has-been town to hot venue. “We don’t have the gas station or the big stores, but we’ve got the personality and the class,” Melvin says. “It’s a great place to live and to raise my kids. The Playhouse is the only place I want to work. This is my baby. It takes the most nurturing and is the most stressful but it’s the most rewarding… When it’s done, man oh man you can’t help but feel good about what the Board has done.”
Melvin is convinced of the prospects for the King’s Playhouse. “I think you’re going to see this theatre will be THE theatre on PEI, with the best Island and international talent,” he says. “We want to make Georgetown the cultural capital of Kings County. Hell, I’d like to make it the cultural capital of PEI…
“Our aim is high, but our goals are realistic,” he says. By the end of this month, his goal is to have next year’s schedule booked with theatre productions and live touring acts. He has no doubt the work will be worth it.