Bons mots

Slips of my tongue

Niagara Falls: It’s more than just water

I wrote this article for the November 2008 issue of  Ontario Dentist, the journal of the Ontario Dental Association. The subject of the piece, Dr. Mike Lococo, is a wonderful man who is trying to make a difference in his community. I have published this on my blog with the permission of Ontario Dentist.

Be Our Guest

Dr. Mike Lococo Lights up Niagara Falls

The thundering waters of Niagara Falls bring many tourists to the city. Dr. Michael Lococo wants to give them another reason to visit.

“The Niagara region has casinos, wineries and beautiful countryside,” says Dr. Lococo. “Now we have world-class theatre.”

A dentist for the past 40 years, Dr. Lococo is also the co-founder of Silver Mist Productions. Established in 2006 with business partner Linus Hand, the company has staged productions of Aladdin, Jr. and Beauty and the Beast at local theatres. Beast will be returning this year to the Niagara Centre for the Performing Arts beginning December 1. There is also a production of Seussical at the Sheraton on the Falls Theatre starting December 15.

A member of the Ontario Dental Association since 1961, Dr. Lococo has had an avid interest in the theatre since he was a student at the University of Toronto. While his love of the arts took a back seat to his successful career as a dentist, he has recently focused his efforts on rejuvenating his hometown of Niagara Falls through theatre.

Over the last 30 years, industry has been shifting away from the region and with it the economic health of downtown Niagara Falls. Department stores, restaurants and other retailers were closing shop and moving out.

“The first impression visitors get is of a run-down city with boarded-up buildings,” says Dr. Lococo. “It has become a disgrace.”

After the construction of Fallsview Casino, there was a renewed interest from investors and consortiums to inject new life into the city. At the same time, Linus Hand, a general manager of Mirvish Productions theatres for 16 years, moved back to his hometown. Like Dr. Lococo, he believed the way to revitalize downtown Niagara Falls was to turn it into a world-class theatre district.

“This was the thing that is going to bring downtown Niagara Falls to respectability,” says Dr. Lococo.

The two partners started a production company and their first show was Aladdin, based on the 1993 Disney animated movie. After pooling their money and hiring top talent from Toronto’s theatre scene, the production ran in the summer of 2006. The show wasn’t exactly a hit.

“The summer was a disaster,” recalls Dr. Lococo. “We expected the tourists to come. But who thinks of Niagara Falls as a world-class theatre destination?”

The show was remounted in December of that year to coincide with the Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights. Silver Mist also reached out to local schools and got busloads of kids to see the matinee productions. Word of mouth spread and Aladdin became a hit.

The following year they produced Beauty and the Beast. The response was so successful it’s being repeated this year. Actor Gabriel Burrafato starred as the Beast last year and is returning to reprise his role.

“As an actor, you like to have the opportunity for roles like this,” Burrafato says. “The production values are phenomenal. The music and costumes are Disney-certified.”

Dr. Lococo wants to expand his vision beyond downtown Niagara Falls to the entire region. “Our goal is to get the tourists here. We are the key. You get people to the Falls and it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to wine country and beyond.”

While it’s easy corralling locals and tourists to his productions, it may prove difficult getting Toronto residents away from their own theatre district. But Silver Mist isn’t competing with Toronto productions like Dirty Dancing and We Will Rock You.

Beauty and the Beast and Seussical are family shows. Our area is a family area. We’re offering the most economical vacation for families. Our dinner and hotel packages cost just as much as what you pay for one show in Toronto.

“What we’re offering is world-class entertainment at an affordable price,” explains Dr. Lococo.

Richard Ouzounian, noted theatre critic for the Toronto Star is highly complimentary about Dr. Lococo’s efforts.

“Every city ought to have someone like Mike Lococo, who loves the place where he lives and wants to see that the best theatre possible is available there. I find his energy, commitment and taste amazing and I wish we had him in Toronto.”

Despite the time and dedication that goes into producing two musicals, Dr. Lococo still practices as a dentist. He admits there are times when juggling dentistry with theatre wears thin on him and Jackie, his wife of 48 years. Does he sometimes wish he had never become involved with Silver Mist?

“If I had to compare dentistry to show biz, it’s not even close. What I’m doing now [with Silver Mist] is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he says. “It’s like getting caught in a current.

“But then you watch 1,000 kids laughing and having a ball, their faces lighting up. I think we are on the right track.”

“His heart is definitely in it,” says Gabriel Burrafato. “His passion shows when you meet him.”

Perhaps dentistry and theatre are not that different: they both make people smile.

***

For more information on show times, tickets and vacation packages visit www.silvermist.ca.

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December 10, 2008 - Posted by | There is hope... | , , , , , ,

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