The government’s decision to back away from its support for a new Guild Hall theatre has supporters “frustrated.”
The community theatre group has outgrown its rundown digs and funneled $10,000, and many volunteer hours, into a planning process for a new facility that would sit beside the existing Porter Creek theatre.
In January, it drafted and announced plans to build a $2.3-million theatre after a feasibility study found it was cheaper to build new than revamp the old.
The Guild asked Yukon’s Community Development Fund for a $1.5-million grant, to be dispensed over two years, to break ground on the new building.
It hoped to start construction in the fall of 2006, but was shut down.
Recently, the Guild’s artistic director Eric Epstein received a letter from Yukon’s Economic Development saying: “Anything on the waterfront has to be taken care of before we look at a new theatre for the Guild,” he said Thursday.
Originally the Guild tossed around the idea of moving to the proposed Arts and Heritage Village project — a series of buildings near the downtown Whitehorse riverfront that would mix art spaces, like a theatre, with business space for local retailers — 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.
Currently plans for the waterfront theatre show no rehearsal or storage space. This means that groups would only be able to present their works on the stage and leave.
And that makes all the difference, said Epstein.
“We’ll have a place where we can build our sets, we have a place where we can store the costumes … That’s what’s kept the Guild going all this time — that we have a home.”
The Guild would consider moving to the waterfront, but any theatre built down there would have to have the same facilities — theatre, storage and practice spaces — it would have in Porter Creek, said Epstein.
“We’d consider going down to the waterfront if we can own a facility of equal or greater value than what we have now.”
And now the government has put the proposed Arts and Heritage Village on life support, with no money earmarked for it in this year’s budget and only vague plans for a future series of public consultations.
But it’s clear to Epstein that the Guild needs a new home, no matter what.
Its storage and seating needs have outgrown its building.
A walk around shows every closet and crawl space is crammed full of costumes and props.
The new theatre would seat 150, while the current theatre can seat 90 at most and, often, that hasn’t been enough.
“There’s been a number of shows where we’ve had to turn people away,” said Epstein.
The Guild Hall’s twin log cabins were built in the 1940s as an 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 left 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 finding their way through the white plaster ceiling; it leaks, the floors are uneven and temperature fluctuations force audience members to don sweaters.
“It’s not going to fall down on anybody’s head soon, but it’s not ideal,” said Epstein.