Guild Hall plans ambitious expansion

For more than 25 years the Guild Hall has vaporized Klansmen, and buried bodies; it’s made audiences laugh, cry and feel queasy —…

For more than 25 years the Guild Hall has vaporized Klansmen, and buried bodies; it’s made audiences laugh, cry and feel queasy — sometimes all at once.

Now the community theatre group has outgrown its digs and is looking to a neighbouring lot as a solution.

The Guild plans to erect a new $2.3-million theatre beside its current building in Porter Creek.

The estimated price tag was heart-attack inducing, said the Guild’s treasurer Tina Woodland. But a feasibility study found it was cheaper to build a new theatre than revamp the old, Woodland said.

She was soon convinced the Guild needed the new building.

The design calls for “a square box that you can bang around in and it leaves the freedom to create spaces completely open — with level floors and straight walls,” she said.

The Guild plans to keep its old building for rehearsals and storage. A corridor will run from the right rear of the existing building to the new structure.

“The new space could almost double the company’s number of productions,” Woodland added. “While one show is up in the new theatre, another show can be in rehearsal in the old space.”

Kobayashi and Zedda Architects drafted plans for the new two-storey, 700-square-metre structure — to be made mostly of steel and glass.

Inside, the theatre will take up 225 square metres and will extend nearly seven metres from floor to ceiling.

This is double the width and height of the existing theatre, but will have the same depth to keep the space intimate, said Guild artistic director Eric Epstein.

A large foyer, coatroom, bar, box office and washrooms will round out the first floor and two staircases will lead to the basement’s storage, tech room and office space.

The Guild Hall’s twin log cabins were built in the 1940s as army barracks.

Then, in the late 1970s, the buildings were grandfathered from the Porter Creek Community Association for $1 and transformed into a theatre.

An addition, to house the Northern Lights School of Dance, was tacked onto the building’s rear about 10 years ago.

Decades of wear and tear have left their mark on the building. The outside wall, housing the café and gallery space, collapsed last year because snow collected in the eaves.

Now the wall on the other side of the building looks a bit less than secure.

Cracks are starting to show inside the building and it leaks, said Woodland as she pointed out a large dark line finding its way through the white plaster ceiling.

The floors are uneven and temperature fluctuations force audience members to don sweaters, she added.

Part of the Guild’s five-year plan will address foundation and structural issues in the existing building.

Also, the theatre’s storage and seating needs have outgrown its building. Every closet and crawl space is crammed full of costumes and props.

“There’s been a number of shows where we’ve had to turn people away,” said Epstein.

The new space will easily seat 150 and that means more revenue for the theatre. One seat represents $200 of revenue throughout the run of a play, he added.

Some question why the Guild is building another theatre in Porter Creek when there is already one slated to go downtown within the waterfront Arts and Heritage Development Plan.

Originally the Guild tossed around the idea of moving to the waterfront, but decided it wouldn’t work.

“With us doing all of our programming there, there wouldn’t be enough room for all the other programming to happen,” explained Epstein.

The proposed waterfront theatre will have no space for rehearsal or storage.

With the new Guild theatre “we’ll have a place where we can build our sets; we’ll have a place where we can store the costumes,” said Epstein.

“That’s what’s kept the Guild going all this time, that we have a home.”

And there’s more than enough theatre in Whitehorse to go around.

“There’s enough capacity and demand in this town that both theatres will be busy,” said Woodland.

New groups like the Masque d’Or and Brave New Works are popping up looking for spaces to put on shows, said Woodland.

“There’s always something and it’s continuing to grow. I don’t see any sign it’s slowing down.”

The new building means operation and maintenance costs will be going up, but they’ll be offset by increased revenues from ticket sales, said Woodland.

And a lot of the work is volunteer — the Guild hosts painting parties and clean-up parties.

“We’re running on sweat equity,” said Woodland. “Once the building is up we’re talking about heat and light costs and we can cover that with the increasing revenue we hope to see from the theatre box office.”

Within the next few months Epstein and Woodland will meet with the Heritage department to try and secure funding through Cultural Spaces Canada, which could support 33 per cent of building costs and 50 per cent of equipment costs (like risers, sound board, lights etc.),

The group has also submitted a funding application to the Community Development Fund through Yukon Economic Development.

It hopes to have funding in place by mid-summer and to start construction in the fall.

The Guild hopes to open its new glass doors to the public before the Canada Winter Games begin in February 2007.

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