A Lethbridge theatre company says it is at the centre of homophobic attacks that could possibly affect its business operations.

Theatre Outré produces shows that it says explore the fringes of sexual norms and gender expectations.

The company recently moved into a bigger performance space in the historic McFarland Building on Fourth Avenue in the south end of the southern Alberta city.

But the theatre society says tenants in the building are lobbying to have the company evicted.

Richie Wilcox

Theatre Outré artistic associate Richie Wilcox says they were shocked after receiving "hateful, hurtful and defamatory emails." (CBC)

“Our landlord … sent us emails of complaints that are unfounded and are really hypothetical and have naïve, ignorant insults that are very hurtful,” said artistic associate Richie Wilcox.

The company says the "hateful, hurtful and defamatory emails" questioned the theatre's integrity based on moral grounds and challenged its co-existence alongside other businesses, including an insurance broker and a music school for children.

 “When you read them you feel like you’re in the 1950s or something.”

The emails have garnered severe backlash online, and concerns were raised about the safety of those allegedly behind the complaints after they were outed on Theatre Outré's website. CBC's interview requests with the tenants were declined.

Landlord Raj Hari confirmed there have been complaints, but he is currently consulting with his lawyer before commenting further.

Lacking proper permits

But the theatre troupe also believed the incident was hampering its attempt to operate in their new location.

The company said it recently realized it had been operating for the last year without a business licence or development permit.

“We were now trying to rectify that. To be clear, we had grants from the City of Lethbridge. We were on a downtown business website,” said Wilcox.

“So this wasn’t us trying to work our way secretly under the radar — that wasn’t it at all. That was our ignorance.”

But the company said while trying to obtain the paperwork the mayor’s office was contacted by a concerned citizen.

The theatre society said the city was going to label the company as an “adult theatre,” which requires a city council vote to operate its own space.

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman declined to comment on the situation, but the city did release a statement saying a development permit application has not been filed to date.

Councillor clarifies city’s position

But Coun. Jeff Carlson told Calgary’s Fast Forward publication that the complaints have nothing to do with the city's issues around the space.

"The club Bordello has operated for a couple of years in Lethbridge now, they've just moved to a new location and apparently they didn't understand the need or process to get a business license or development permit," said Carlson.

“They just need to apply for the permit and I think everything will be fine."

He is also confused why the theatre troupe believes it will be forced to be licensed as an “adult theatre.”

“I don't think that definition applies at all," he said.

"The two definitions I think will be most applicable would be either private club, like the Moose Hall or something like that, or entertainment establishment, and unfortunately they've applied for neither as far as I know."

Carlson stressed that Lethbridge is not an intolerant place. He said he is troubled that the city will be given a black eye over the situation.

Outpouring of support

Theatre Outré said on its website Wednesday night that they have been contacted by members of Lethbridge city council who have pledged to better explain the confusion surrounding its licensing.

"We believe this support by city council is legitimate and are grateful for the respect they are showing us," said the company in a statement.

It also says it has talked to police about "further complaints from our neighbours."

The theatre says it is important to note after today's events, and the outpouring of support it has received, that Lethbridge is a good place to operate.

"Lethbridge is not homophobic, though some who live here may be," said the company. "Many people in this community have stepped forward to support us and we are overwhelmed." 

Meanwhile, the company’s upcoming production of A Thought in Three Parts by Wallace Shawn starting Feb. 4 will be performed at the Penny Building located at 324 Fifth Street south in downtown Lethbridge.