High above the rows of chairs in the Town Hall Auditorium, between the showpiece windows and the line where the 30-plus foot wall stretches to meet the ceiling, a strip of molding adds a decorative touch. And on the thin upper face of that molding, where no one ever looks unless they’ve climbed many rungs of a ladder, are the names of various people who — over the decades — have undertaken the job of repainting the molding.
It’s time to add a few more names — not just to the molding, but to a great number of elements of the historic Auditorium which have undergone transformations in the past 10 years, to the tune of approximately $100,000 when all is said and one.
Chief among those transformations is the balcony. When the St. Marys Community Players (SMCP) launches its 40th anniversary season on Thursday, Oct. 24 with a preview production of Anne of Green Gables, 30 people will climb the third-level stairs — guided by newly-installed stairway lighting — and settle on one of 30 newly-purchased cushions into the repurposed Baptist Church pews that have served as seating in the space since . . . well, no one’s quite sure since when.
“You talk to the old-timers, and there are some wonderful memories about this place,” beams SMCP board of directors member David Cullen, the person who spearheaded the balcony rejuvenation project, as he spreads his arms to show off the just re-opened seating area.
Approval from the Town of St. Marys — through the chief building official, and based on requirements in the Building and Fire Codes — was only granted last week. It marks the culmination of a 10-year dream for Cullen, who moved to St. Marys that long ago and immediately fell in love with the entire Auditorium.
He points across the open space between the balcony railing and the portion of wall running above the stage. Displayed prominently, as if overseeing everything that happens below, is an emblem depicting two uniquely Canadian images. It’s something new visitors — like some of the over 100 people who poked their heads into the Auditorium last Saturday during the Doors Open festival — immediately point out when they first see the space.
“I’ve travelled across Canada quite a bit. And I’ll tell you, there is not another beaver in Canada like that, with the wheat sheaves behind him . . . He is original, and he is precious.”
Much of the work that has been done over the past decade has served to accentuate the immediate aesthetic value of the Auditorium. The Town of St. Marys helped out with $6,500, a portion of which went towards painting of the walls, moldings, and door and window frames. A chandelier was donated, and installed for free by Forman Electric. New moldings were installed free by Vanderschot Construction. Granton-based artist Chantelle Marshall spent a week painting the columns that support the balcony.
“We put in $6,000 worth of theatre blinds on the windows,” Cullen explains. “In the past, they used to put up pieces of plywood before every (SMCP) show.”
A new safety cage for the lights in the ceiling was installed; anyone going up into the attic to make changes still must wear a safety harness (another thing SMCP had to purchase) but there’s now no chance at all that they’ll slip and end up with a hole in the ceiling, suspended in open air.
The stage was repainted from brown to a theatrical black.
SMCP secured a $31,000 provincial government-funded Trillium Foundation grant for technical upgrades. That allowed for a complete modernization of the sound/lighting booth, so the effects for an entire production can now be expertly mixed and then programmed into a computer, and communication between booth and backstage is immediate.
But for Cullen, the balcony — which eventually rose to the top of the priority list about five years ago — was the real dream.
“I saw (the balcony) as a project,” he confesses, adding he even has a nickname for it. “But it’s not just me. Everybody loves ‘The Old Girl’.”
He added the Town of St. Marys — including Mayor and Council, as well as top administrators Kevin McLlwain and Grant Brouwer — has thrown its full support behind the entire Auditorium rejuvenation.
“Without their help, this never would have happened.”
To meet safety standards, spotlight stands had to be taken out of the balcony seating area; a $5,000 lighting bar is now attached on the ceiling above the balcony. Vanderschot Construction came through again, this time adding extensions to the railing at the junctures where the aisles come down to the front.
“It has been a Community Players project, yes,” comments the man who has effectively served as the Project Manager on the balcony renovation. “But it really has been a community project.”
He adds that’s just fine, because for him, part of the thrill of seeing the balcony re-open is knowing that more memories might be made for those seated in its lofty pews. “(The Auditorium) has got a lot of wonderful history. And now it’s going to have more!” Cullen says.
Tickets for Anne of Green Gables are going fast. They can be purchased at The Flower Shop and More on Queen Street. Call 519-284-2013.