The return of the Roxy to 124th Street is a step closer following Monday’s official ground-breaking for a new $12.5-million facility on the on the site where the old theatre burned down in 2015.
“I feel like I just graduated from insurance school and I’m writing my exams on design school and about to go into construction school,” Bradley Moss, executive director of Theatre Network, told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM Monday.
“The things that I never knew that you had to learn when you ran an arts organization — especially when you lose [a building] to a fire.”
The Roxy opened in 1938 as a movie theatre on 124th Street, just north of 107th Avenue. It was converted into a 200-seat live-performance facility in 1989 and became home to Theatre Network.
Then, in the early hours of Jan. 13, 2015, it burned to the ground. The cause of the fire was never determined.
“It was weird. I was awoken just by, I guess, the fates,” Moss said. “I looked at my phone and it was multiple messages from the security company and staff and other folks. And then I opened my back door and I lived close enough where I could smell the smoke, fire. So I was like, ‘I think it’s going to be a long day.'”
Construction on the new facility is expected to begin this summer and be completed in early 2021.
While the site remains the same, the rebuild has provided a chance to do a real change of scene.
The main space will be named the Nancy Power Theatre, a tribute to a strong supporter and longtime board member who donated the building and the property “back in the day,” Moss said.
Downstairs will hold the Lorne Cardinal Theatre, a black-box theatre that can seat up to 80 and be converted to an open space for cabaret-style events.
But Moss said one of the biggest gains to the theatre community will be its “game-changing” rehearsal hall.
“You used to be able to walk in … and you were like, ‘Oh it’s kind of run-down a little bit,’ and then Poof! — some magic on the stage,” he said.
“What we’re bringing to the party is three venues, which we were able to reimagine.”
Moss said the last four years were made easier by the fact that Theatre Network was able to move into a south-side space that formerly was home to Catalyst Theatre.
There’s still a long way to go before opening night, but Moss is contemplating a celebratory feel to the new space with a series of variety shows, perhaps paying tribute to the likes of Cardinal, k.d. lang and other names from the theatre’s past.
All three levels of government have provided support for the rebuild, while the Roxy is continuing to run a campaign to raise $1.5 million.