Tweed: Tweed & Co. Theatre expands into operating two venues
Friday, January 7, 2022
Hastings County’s theatre scene is taking a dramatic turn, with Tweed and Company Theatre now owning Actinolite’s Marble Arts Centre and leasing Bancroft’s Village Playhouse.
Company members announced the arts centre deal on Wednesday on social media and on Friday were set to issue news releases about both buildings.
The Tweed and Area Arts Council gave the arts centre to the company, which has also signed a 10-year lease in Bancroft, company founder and artistic director Tim Porter said.
“We’re very excited,” he said.
Porter joked he and his colleagues are “starting our Hastings County theatre empire.”
“To own a venue at all is such a big and important step for us,” said company general manager Emily Mewett, who usually doubles as stage manager. She’s been with the company since its 2009 inception.
She said the arts council had opened the centre’s doors to many local groups.
“We’re really looking forward to continuing that work and growing alongside other local organizations,” Mewett said.
Located in the hamlet of Actinolite, north of Tweed, the Marble Arts Centre was built in 1864 as a Wesleyan Methodist Church. The arts council’s website states the last church service was held in 2005; the council bought the building in 2008.
Two years later, Tweed and Company Theatre players staged the building’s first performance.
Their contributions to the centre have since included construction of the stage, bar and box office, and the company has been the main renter of the facility.
“We love the space. It’s always been our unofficial home,” said Porter.
Officials with the arts council and St. Paul’s United Church, which owns the playhouse, each expressed relief that the venues were in professional hands, relieving their volunteer groups of the need to run venues and maintain those century buildings.
Arts council secretary-treasurer Robert Giguere said the all-volunteer council had, in recent years, been concerned about the demands of owning the arts centre. Efforts to recruit younger volunteers had failed, he said.
“All of a sudden we came up with a notion hiding in plain view,” Giguere said with a chuckle.
“Ontario law allows gifting of assets from one charity to another providing that the receiving charity does pretty much the same line of work,” Giguere said, describing the need to continue local arts and ensure the building didn’t fall into private hands.
He said the “fantastic” theatre company team is both capable and eager. Company productions, adapted to public-health precautions and sometimes online, have continued despite the pandemic.
The company and the arts council have two common board members who recused themselves from the talks, Porter and Giguere said. Vicki McCulloch chairs the council and is vice-chair of the company board. Don DeGenova is president of the company board and a council director.
Giguere said separate valuations by two local real estate agents estimated the centre’s value to be $315,000.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of work piled into it,” Giguere said, recalling years of investment from grants and donations.
Lawyers were also hired during the “smooth transition,” he said.
Giguere said the change is “bittersweet” for members who love the building but were daunted by its demands. The council membership’s initial reaction to the deal has so far been quite positive, he added.
“We will continue use the Marble Arts Centre as a performing base,” said Giguere. The council’s presentation of various acts will continue, but this time the council will be renting the centre.
Bancroft’s intimate Village Playhouse, meanwhile, remains under the ownership of neighbouring St. Paul’s United Church. It was constructed in 1920 as the church hall. Through the years its roles have included that of courthouse, jail, theatre, and meeting place.
Hospice North Hastings operated the venue between 2016 and 2020.
“They left the building in fantastic condition,” Porter said. He added only maintenance, not major repairs are needed. The company has applied for grants to install an elevator and more public washrooms.
The hospice agency had also added a full commercial kitchen.
“We’ll manage all the day-to-day operations and all the programming, but we still want St. Paul’s to be very actively engaged,” Porter said.
Church board member Judy Edgar said running an entertainment spot, especially during a pandemic, was a daunting prospect for the board.
“We were worried that because of COVID we would have to maintain the building somehow,” Edgar said. “During COVID we lost a lot of money, too. It would have been a very difficult process for us to keep the building up.”
She said there had been only one event in the building in the last year-and-a-half.
Porter pledged the lease will mean an improvement in the playhouse’s offerings and locals need not be concerned about an out-of-town company’s involvement.
“We said from the get-go, in talking with Judy, that we want to return it to being a true community hub and an arts and culture space for the whole community,” said Porter.
“We’re planning a season for both Tweed and Bancroft that would be three large-scale professional musicals,” he said.
Manager Emily Mewett said the playhouse lease “allows us to expand our reach in a much more permanent way.
“Being able to offer theatre to patrons, partnership opportunities to local organizations and training programs to young, aspiring theatre-makers in a different community within our region is very exciting.”
She said the troupe wants to hear from those who want to use either building, propose ideas, or gain experience.
Both she and Porter said partnerships and general community support have been “key to the company’s success.
“We would not be where we are today without the support of so many other people,” said Mewett.
Shows already planned
Edgar said North Hastings groups had proposed summer theatre shows and a comedy festival at the playhouse. The Bancroft-based Algonquin Arts Council, which had previously ended its involvement in the building, had also expressed renewed interest.
She said the church lacks the capacity to run a full-time venue, but local groups can instead approach the theatre company. Edgar’s seat on the company’s board is pending board approval. She also said she is forming a community committee, which will include church members and other citizens, to maintain local involvement in the playhouse.
Porter said the availability of two theatres will be most cost-effective for the company, allowing for the sharing of resources. The same production can occur in each building. With union rules requiring actors to be paid for rehearsals that may last for three weeks, being able to move productions between sites is an attractive option.
August will see a three-week run in Bancroft of a “big Broadway musical,” the title of which will be announced in February, Porter said.
Other uses may include concerts by local and Canadian performers, community theatre, smaller-scale and plays.
“It will still be a rental venue as well,” he said.
He said the Broadway production won’t fit in the Marble Arts Centre, but two other musicals and several smaller shows are planned to appear in each venue.
“Arts and culture are going to explode when we’re able to be out and about again.”
By Luke Hendry for www.intelligencer.ca.