Happiness. At times elusive, at times all-encompassing. It’s what we all chase and yet it’s what many of us can’t seem to find. In Toronto however, there is one place where happiness isn’t just found… it’s the norm.
Finding a Treasure – One of the Most Unique Things To Do in Toronto
We didn’t know what to expect when we pulled into the commercial lot in an area outside downtown Toronto. The nondescript multi-unit building is not what typically comes to mind when the term “dinner-theatre” is used but we threw aside our first impressions and parked the car. What we didn’t know in those moments from the time we turned into the lot until we opened the front doors, was that hidden within the unprepossessing exterior, was a pearl of a treasure.
As we stepped through the doors and took our place in line to enter the dining area, we were greeted with a friendly ‘hello’ and directions to the washrooms, should we need. Already we were smiling in reaction to the warmth of the greeting. Those smiles seemed to reappear frequently throughout the entire evening. As the line continued to move, we took a look around the entrance. What we saw spoke of an amazing history and a profound impact on the community.
From the ceiling hung large stars adorned with the photos and names of former and current employees, and a description of all that Famous PEOPLE Players Theatre meant to them, in their own words. Along the wall, photos of performers and performances throughout the years were displayed along with pictures of famous personalities who have attended one of their shows around the world at one time or another.
It was, in fact, Liberace who discovered this spectacular show, bringing it to Vegas as his opening act for years where it captured the hearts of stars and audiences alike. Touring the world, collecting experiences and fans, the show settled back in Toronto and delivers the same kind of sensational performances for which it was first recognized.
What we hadn’t fully realized was the profound impact it has, and has had, on the performers and staff as well as the community as a whole. That is, until we were seated for dinner and had the privilege of talking to the staff themselves.
It’s More Than Dinner & A Show… It’s Where Special Happens
The slogan of Famous PEOPLE Players Theatre, “Where Special Happens”, hints at something deeper than just a spectacular show of dazzling talent and entertaining puppetry. It breaks down, into three words, what is at the very core of the company, its history and its purpose.
Diane Dupuy, the founder of Famous PEOPLE Players, began working with individuals with learning disabilities over 40 years ago when she started the theatre. She herself had struggled in school failing to find an outlet for her creativity and suffering from difficulties with attention that, at that time, were not regularly identified or aided in the school system. Identifying a need to remove limits and offer hope she developed a much sought after production that impressed audiences and saw them heading to Broadway, Las Vegas, and many countries around the world. At the same time, she provided a creative outlet and a unique form of expression for herself and those involved.
The staff and performers are still largely comprised of people with learning disabilities who have found a home with Famous PEOPLE Players and whose stories are a testament to the amazing impact and work of Diane as well as an inspiration to all who hear them.
While we ate our dinner, we were fortunate to have been able to start up conversations with many of the waiters and staff who were busily working around us. Each one had a unique story. Each one changed because of Famous PEOPLE Players. Each one brightening as they spoke, eyes shining with happiness.
There was Nastasha, the girl who refreshed our water. In fact, we don’t remember when our water was ever empty over the entire course of our meal and each time our glasses were refilled, a smile was on her face. We were told when she first came to the theatre she was so shy she didn’t want to let go of her mother, her chin tightly hugging her chest in an attempt to avoid eye contact. It didn’t take long before she found her place and became the talkative, smiling girl we met.
Then there was Michael, one of the kitchen staff, who we spoke to as he passed. He’d worked at other places, he said, but none of them understood him or what he needed, When we asked him what it was that he needed he said simply, “patience”. That is what he has found at Famous PEOPLE Players and he said that he is now happy every day he comes to work.
Perhaps one of the most memorable of the staff was Benny. With Famous PEOPLE Players almost from the start, he leaves an impression on all who have the chance to meet him. It was his story that really stuck with us. Joining the theatre at age 16, Benny still had yet to speak. Not one single word. Though he was uncommunicative verbally he was still able to participate as a performer. Unfortunately, he struggled on stage, missing cues during practice and twice during performances. Diane reminded him that three mistakes on stage meant he would be reassigned to a job off-stage. After making that third mistake, knowing that he would be removed from the show and his mother would be present for a performance that day, Benny looked at Diane and spoke his first words…ever: “I have to perform because my mother will be watching!”
Stories like these abound and showed us that the experience was more than just a dinner and a show… it really is where special happens.
A Truly Entertaining Black Light Show
It is true that the history and purpose of Famous PEOPLE Players is extraordinary. It made us especially happy to be present for the evening. But beyond its inspirational story is an internationally-renowned, simply entertaining performance using puppets and black lighting, music and humour. The magic produced on stage is often spell-binding. Performers are not seen but instead, illuminated objects are brought to life by the cast dressed from head-to-toe in black. Then there are the puppets. Some of the show includes songs performed by, often life-sized, puppet-versions of the original artists. The movements so life-like that you often forget you’re watching an imitation of the real thing.
As the puppets and bright shapes and objects floated and danced across the stage, our smile that had carried on from the beginning of the evening grew wider, our laughter a common occurrence. At the end of the show, when they turned up the lights and provided the audience with a behind the scenes glimpse as to how the puppets are brought to life by the cast, our appreciation for the talent and hard work only grew. It is a show unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Where To Go In Toronto For An Unexpected Fine Dining Experience
The evening started with a meal in the dining room before we were lead to the theatre to watch the performance. It was during this meal that we were able to speak to so many of the staff whose stories touched us deeply. It was also here that we enjoyed one of the best fine dining meals we’ve had in Toronto.
Our culinary experience started with a fresh salad and some entertainment by a phenomenal jazz quartet. While they are not present every evening, we were lucky to have them there to enhance our dining experience. When the main came out we were pleasantly surprised. Though we knew celebrity Chef Christopher Woods created the menu, we weren’t expecting the exceedingly high level of fine dining fare. Between us we had a perfectly cooked steak and a deliciously seasoned salmon, served on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes with a side of veggies.
With happily sated appetites, and equally full hearts after speaking to so many happy staff, we moved onto the theatre before returning for dessert. The dessert was a special treat by Chef Dufflet and for those who are familiar with Toronto’s food scene, the name Dufflet Pastries will ring a salivating bell. We were treated to a mini cake each for dessert – one black and white mousse mini and one lemon raspberry mascarpone mini – and without leaving a single crumb, we finished both while being serenaded by an Elvis impersonator.
Though the mealtime entertainments change, we can’t imagine the quality of the culinary experience doing so as well!
A Night In Toronto That Leaves You… Happy
From the minute we walked into Famous PEOPLE Players theatre in Toronto, when we were greeted by that first smile and the rotating stars hanging overhead, to the exquisite meal we enjoyed over conversation about the incredible impact the theatre has had on its members. From the one-of-a-kind performance of lights and music, to the 5 star dessert we gobbled up. The night started with a smile that held throughout and it ended with us realizing that, for several hours, in a theatre just outside of Toronto, we felt simply and purely, happy.
Heading to, or in, the Toronto area? Find out more information about Famous PEOPLE Players, their showtimes and their not-for-profit work by visiting FamousPeoplePlayers.com or calling 416-532-1137 / 1-888-453-3385.