Behind the scenes of the Fredericton Playhouse’s curtain call

Written by Jared Durelle on October 15, 2018

The stage of the Fredericton Playhouse. Photo by Jared Durelle.

Over the last five years, the Fredericton Playhouse has run hundreds of ticketed and non-ticketed events but with its 55th birthday approaching, the Playhouse’s final curtain could be nigh.

With reports of system failures, show cancellations, and fire code violations, doubt surrounding the future of the institution is surfacing in the arts community. With 15 full-time staff, 30 to 40 part-time staff, and 70 volunteers, the Playhouse is well known. In its lifetime, millions of guests have filled its seats.

In an interview with Emprise reporters, Tim Yerxa explained problems faced by those who manage the facility. As executive director of Fredericton Playhouse Inc. since 2000, he revealed some of the institution’s crippling failures.

“For example, during a showing of Spamalot the ceiling in front of the stage was being rained on. We had plastic tarps up in the catwalks held by 14 people catching rain and letting it fill buckets,” Yerxa said. “The building is our only instrument to make these shows happen, and it is broken.”

“The most significant issues are heating and ventilation…. The bottom line is that the building was not built with a long life in mind. It is lucky to get to fifty.”

The building is now dysfunctional. Since 1972, renovations have piled up, pushing the Playhouse towards its current complications. Replacement is the next step as the existing building is set to be demolished after all reusable equipment is removed.

In 2007, consultants were hired to examine how the Playhouse could utilize its budget to restore its structural failures.

“They said you shouldn’t bother with renovation because the moment you start you won’t be able to stop,” Yerxa explained. “That’s when we realized we have to replace it, when refurbishment was not an option.”

After being asked about the use of funding, Yerxa revealed how the Playhouse enables crossing of physical and socioeconomic barriers. “By partnering with organizations and schools, we can give out hundreds of tickets to those that have not had the chance to come to the Playhouse before,” he said.
For example, organizations such as the Fredericton Food Bank among several others have requested 1,625 tickets over the past five years. Tickets were delivered to those wanting but unable to attend. The Playhouse also has a fund that enables local groups of marginalized peoples to utilize the space by paying their rent.

“Recent additions on isolated problems have only been band-aids to try and fix issues like bringing heat to the front of the building. The insulation and air have to be tested every couple months as these issues progressively get worse.”

“The new project would host 850 seats in the larger of two stages and 300 seats in the second. The creation of the building will cost $50 million. The City of Fredericton is footing $14 million, while $28 million is expected from federal and provincial governments as well as $5 million from a public campaign to be announced at a later date.”

These costs conflict with some of Fredericton’s other construction projects, such as road work and other installments. “[The building] is living on borrowed time, and we’re just waiting for something to happen that will stop operations for us.”

With the facility’s struggles in mind, and with hopeful ambitions forming, Fredericton is left wondering if the project will be feasible in coming years as the Playhouse’s state worsens.

To learn more, visit buildtheplayhouse2.ca.

Jared Durelle is a journalism student at St. Thomas University who can be contacted at editorsemprisenews18@gmail.com.

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