Phillip Nero

DREAMCO Theatre (Durham Region Entertainment and Music)

David Walker

Joe Szekeres

A new professional theatre company has moved into Durham Region.

Although Artistic Director Jeremy Smith (a former student of mine) no longer lives in the Durham Region, I always salute his company, Driftwood Theatre, which has produced some extraordinary Shakespeare in the Park productions across the province every summer. In my heart, Driftwood was and will always remain a professional theatre company stemming from sturdy roots here in the Durham Region. Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge (TOTR), under Artistic Director Carey Nicholson’s vision, has staged classic and modern plays over the last ten years both indoors and outdoors.

Passionate and articulate about the theatre, Phil Nero, an Equity-based artist, now living in Brooklin (with his wife and six-year-old daughter) is excited beyond measure to open DREAMCO (Durham Region Entertainment and Music) even in these uncertain fiscal times for the Arts on account of Covid. He knows it is going to be challenging over the next couple of years since many have lost income, but Nero is confident the enjoyment and love of live theatre will outweigh in the long run especially if local residents do not have to spend gas money to drive downtown to Toronto. Starting out small and inexpensive, Nero wants DREAMCO to show just how valuable they are in what they plan to offer to Durham Region and beyond.

Phil is not out to be in competition with other local professional theatres in Durham such as Driftwood and TOTR. On the contrary, he says there is no reason for that. Instead, he made a comparison to car dealerships that are on the same street and next door to each other. People who are going out to look for a car will venture and look all around for what they want. For Phil, the more these theatre companies thrive and work together in the same manner, the more theatre is generated, and the more people and audiences will attend.

During our conversation at the Brooklin Coffee Culture over a cold drink on a very warm afternoon, the conversation turned to Nero telling me how he stumbled into dance and when the proverbial ‘theatre bug bit him’, specifically by accident in Grade 6, when he was involved in the school play ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Phil fondly recalled watching ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ in high school and how its message of CARPE DIEM/SEIZE THE DAY spoke volumes to him. That film’s message brought him to this point in his life where he is right now in making his dreams come true and pursuing them.

Nero grew up in Markham where he next appeared in a production of ‘West Side Story’ with the Unionville Theatre Company. Two dance teachers from the area grounded Phil going forward where he participated in and won several competitions and discovered what he calls this extraordinary gift of dance. Undecided whether he wanted a career in show business or as a chef (another of his passionate interests), Phil took a year off to decide while he performed in Grand Bend’s Huron Country Playhouse of ‘West Side Story’ where he was offered the Equity Apprentice role.

When he returned home, he knew of Sheridan College’s Musical Theatre Programme and wanted to attend. He failed his first year because he was ill-prepared and thought it would be a waste of time to return. However, a couple of teachers took Phil under their wings and in his words was told: “it would be a game-changer for you to repeat your first year again.”

He stayed and turned the three-year theatre programme into a four-year one. Phil didn’t graduate Sheridan because he went to do ‘West Side Story’ at the Stratford Festival where he worked with famed choreographer Sergio Trujillo* in 1999, but he did assure that he completed his diploma (now a degree from Sheridan) So, to all theatre lovers who want to school themselves in the art, Nero strongly advises to make sure you get that degree or diploma first and foremost.

The theatre life then became ‘serendipitous’ for Nero as he quoted this word several times during our conversation. He auditioned and was cast in the Toronto production of ‘The Lion King’ for a year and then moved down the street to The Royal Alexandra where he appeared in ‘Mamma Mia’ as Dance Captain and understudy for Pepper. Nero then went on the road for a year and a half with the US National Tour of ‘Mamma Mia’ where he played Pepper.

When he returned, he directed and choreographed a production of ‘A Chorus Line’ at Stage West in Mississauga and ‘Chicago’ at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre. Nero was supposed to return to Halifax to perform in ‘Evita’ when he was offered a role in the Toronto run ‘The Lord of The Rings’ where he was the Dance Captain/Fight Captain/Swing and then went to work on the production in London. Upon his return, Nero went to direct and choreograph six seasons at The Citadel Theatre.

Nero recognizes how Covid has put a kink in the plans of the trajectory going forward in the Canadian theatre industry. Many of the major and independent/regional theatres are focusing on smaller casts at this time as everyone weathers this continued Covid rain for now to reduce overhead costs and capital investments which means less work for actors and less parts to be had.

But as DREAMCO evolves over the next several years. Nero assured me Durham theatre actors and lovers can look for opportunities to grow as artists. Starting off, Nero called the company’s focus now ‘a Math game’ and will produce non-Equity presentations to begin with the idea going forward that Equity credits could be earned in the distant future. Phil also reiterated this is not a comment on the artists’ abilities whether they are union or non-union. All Equity artists were once non-Equity.

It is Nero’s goal that DREAMCO will produce entertainment across many genres and not focus merely on musical theatre. He believes and wants so very much to be able to create the magic of gathering together as a community for theatre here in Durham Region. He wants his shows to enable audiences to question, think, act, react and talk. These are the points of why theatre is shared in the community. Going forward, Nero says a long-term wish is to build a theatre for DREAMCO within the Region. He specifically said:
“Mayors of Durham Region, are you paying attention?”
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(*Trujillo learned the choreography from the famed Jerome Robbins who originated the dancing from the original ‘West Side Story’)
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Although this is far off in the future, Nero’s goal and desire are to fashion DREAMCO in the same manner as Drayton Entertainment and London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre where there are six-seven shows a season, possible Fringe festival, workshops for students and a bridge for community theatre to professional theatre. Although musical theatre is Nero’s passion, it is his hope that the company will also tackle the great stories from classic to contemporary and modern. Phil’s wish list for the inaugural DREAMCO season would include ‘Death of a Salesman’, ’12 Angry Men’ and ‘Inherit the Wind’ (readers: remember this is a wish list and not a given).

To bring audiences back to the theatre, DREAMCO is planning a Concert in the Village Series to be held at Brooklin Community Centre. No money or profit will be made from this series, according to Nero as that is not the intent at all. DREAMCO is planning to bring in entertainers well known around the province. There are also plans for Sunday afternoons around 2 pm ($10/$20) where tea and scones will be served and listen to performers with special engagements planned to celebrate Autumn, gather for Remembrance Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Part of DREAMCO’s mission statement is to improve the quality of life through art, and these Sunday afternoons will reflect that statement.

DREAMCO’s Board of Directors include Nero, Katherine Docherty (who works at Active Natural Health in Brooklin), Brooklin Rotarian Rod Hunter, and Rex Harrington (National Ballet of Canada) My jaw dropped when I heard Harrington’s name mentioned.

DREAMCO will present its first concert ‘Songs of Hope’ at Port Perry’s Town Hall 1873 on June 17 at 6 pm and 8 pm with proceeds going to help Ukraine. Phil has selected from the musical theatre scene and one from the pop world. He smiled and said he called in a lot of favours, and there are some terrific artists who will participate: Mark Cassius (who has played in Toronto and Broadway and was a member of the acapella group ‘The Nylons’); Cory O’Brien (who recently appeared in the Toronto production of ‘Come from Away’); Cory’s wife, Christy Adamson (who appeared in ‘Cats’ and ‘War Horse’) and Cynthia Smithers (who appeared in Stratford production of ‘A Chorus Line’) and local talent Jessica Docherty who attends Oshawa’s O’Neill Collegiate.

Thank you so much, Phil Nero, for your time. I look forward to seeing the inaugural season for DREAMCO.
To learn more about DREAMCO, Nero encourages interested people and audiences to sign up on the website: www.dreamcotheatre.com to be placed on the mailing list so information can be sent to you regarding the inaugural season.

To purchase tickets for ‘Songs of Hope’ A Benefit Concert for Ukraine on June 17 at 6 pm and 8 pm, go to www.townhalltheatre.ca . Tickets are $50.00.

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