• Where Families Flourish

  • Where Families Flourish

  • Where Families Flourish

  • Where Families Flourish

  • Where Families Flourish

  • Where Families Flourish

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Tuesday, 28 April 2015 23:11

Heritage Theatre Project - P. Kerr, Wingham Advance Times

     After too long an absence, Wingham Town Hall Theatre is gearing up to make
a return run.
     A decision made at the April 7 meeting of North Huron council opens the
doors for a fundraising campaign, and the eventual reopening of the
theatre.
Wingham Town Hall Theatre has a deep stage and fabulous acoustics. The
problem is, it also has fire code and other deficiencies that need to be
corrected, and that will take a substantial financial investment. A group
of citizens has been meeting with town staff with the goal of reopening
the theatre. The group has made a commitment to raise the estimated
$100,000 needed.
     Work includes fire doors, sprinkler system, a new heating and cooling
system, and a projector and retractable screen.
Constructed 125 years ago, the theatre has seen many memorable
performances by local actors and musicians as well as professional groups.
In its heyday, it was known as one of the best theatres around.
The theatre was designed to provide a venue for visiting performers as
well as a place for large meetings, to help justify the expense of
building the town hall. The building also housed the town library and
police department - many people recall seeing the cells the building's
basement. Portions of the building were also rented to private businesses.
But it was the theatre, with its stock of scenic backdrops paid for by the
local business community, that drew crowds of local citizens and visitors
alike. In the days before television, travelling entertainers were
important to the social live of the community.
Over the years the theatre continued to be the venue for many amateur
productions and continued to draw crowds for professional country and
western productions.
     There were upgrades over the years; an elevator was installed to make the
theatre accessible to all. The stage was extended, and the lighting and
sound system was upgraded.
      But the age of the building has taken a toll, and more work is needed.
Because of the fire code and other deficiencies, the theatre was closed to
the public and has been sitting vacant for the past three years. Many
people would like to see that changed and are willing to open their
wallets to get the theatre doors reopened.
     Doug Kuyvenhoven has spoken to council in the past on behalf of the
citizens' committee that has formed. A meeting held earlier this year saw
the gallery in the council chambers filled with dozens of supporters.
Kuyvenhoven represented the group at last week's council meeting.
The report presented to council by recreation and facilities director Pat
Newson was prepared in cooperation with the theatre committee and staff.
It outlined the work needed for the reopening and recommended the work
begin once all the funding is in place.
     Once the work is completed, bookings would be handled through the
recreation department the same as for any other facility in the
municipality. Renters would have access to the lobby, washrooms, theatre
and exit stairs, but not the administration area, kitchen or council
chambers.
     The proposed rental rates would see a graduated fee schedule that would
allow small community groups to use the theatre without a large financial
investment. 
     One key consideration was the noise from the theatre that might disrupt
office operations and council meetings � no rentals would be allowed
during business hours and during council meetings.
Also suggested in the report was setting aside a portion of the rental
fees for ongoing maintenance.
     Newson said some of the numbers provided in the report are based on
estimates, since there is no way of accurately determining what it will
cost to operate the theatre. Included in the estimated operational costs
would be staff salaries, utilities, cleaning and snow removal, to reflect
the additional expenses associated with the theatre being open.
The cost of the elevator, which is already being used, was not included.
Newson's report estimates there would be almost $10,000 in new expenses.
She told council the estimated revenue is about $2,000, meaning a
shortfall of about $7,000 a year.
Coun. Bill Knott noted the Blyth theatre doesn't make a profit either.
"That's how it is with the arts." However, having the theatre open would
fill a gap in what North Huron offers the people of the community.
Much of council discussion focused on the rates to be charged, with some
preferring a flat fee. Knott said he thought the rates were too high for
community groups, and would prefer something like a flat $250 rental fee.
Newson said the fees could be changed later.  The fees outlined include a 
community group rate and a commercial rate. For example, a community group using up to 100 seats would pay $150, a commercial group $250. The top rate would be for a commercial group with a sold-out audience - $650. There is also a small fee for rehearsal time. A security deposit would be returned if the user group cleaned up after the show and removed all garbage. The theatre would be rented "as is." Kuyvenhoven explained the idea was to have promoters pay a premium, and a community group that puts on a wildly successful event wouldn't mind paying more. But the theatre should be accessible for small events, too. Newson stressed reopening the Wingham Town Hall Theatre is not intended to compete with the Blyth Theatre ; that facility has rehearsal and backstage areas, plus excellent lighting and sound systems; but to fill a need in the community. She noted any group using the Wingham theatre would have to bring in its own equipment. Kuyvenhoven said, "Our purpose is to see a facility now sitting empty used again, without putting a burden on the taxpayer." Newson said, "Moving forward means opening it, not likely to make money. But staff is OK with that as long as the parameters outlined in the report are followed." What the group asked for, and received, was council's blessing to go forward and start fundraising. The theatre committee was declared a committee
of council, with Coun. Yolanda Ritsema-Teeninga to be the Council Rep.

By Pauline Kerr - Advance Times Editor
Last modified on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 23:21