Roxy Theatre rebuild gets $2.5M from Alberta government

The rebirth of Edmonton's beloved Roxy Theatre got closer to reality on Monday after the Alberta government announced a funding injection of $2.5 million.

'It's exciting to think there's going to be this new building that's going to be state of the art'

The design and concept for the new $12.5-million Roxy Theatre. (Alberta Culture and Tourism)

The rebirth of Edmonton's beloved Roxy Theatre got closer to reality on Monday after the Alberta government announced a funding injection of $2.5 million.

The popular theatre on 124th Street, just north of 107th Avenue, burned to the ground in January 2015.

A new facility on the same site will cost $12.5 million.

In addition to the $2.5 million in funding from Alberta Culture and Tourism announced Monday, Roxy operator Theatre Network has already received $330,000 in federal funding and $200,000 from the City of Edmonton.

Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2019. Completion is targeted for the start of the 2020 theatre season.

A turning point

Bradley Moss, Theatre Network's artistic and executive director, said the provincial funding marks a critical moment for the project.

"It's a turning point, that's what it is," Moss said. "If you're going to watch the cultural highlights tonight on TV this is a turning point in the game — it's a game changer."

The old building, built in 1938, operated as a movie house until 1988. It then became a live performance space before becoming the new home of Theatre Network in 1990.

After the 2015 fire, Theatre Network opened The Roxy on Gateway in a space formerly occupied by Catalyst Theatre.

The new Roxy building will be much bigger than the old space and will house three venues — a 200-seat theatre, an 80-seat "black box" theatre and a rehearsal hall.

"Hopefully we can have an impact nationally, and internationally with the work that will be created here locally," Moss said. "Canadian stories will have a creation centre, and as well, we'll be able to open up our building to many more new art forms, the dance, the music, the visual arts."
The old Roxy Theatre was destroyed by fire on Jan. 13, 2015. (CBC)

'A little tear in my eye'

The new building will be vastly different from the one first experienced by local playwright and actor Darrin Hagen in the 1980s.

Hagen, writer in residence at the Edmonton Public Library, said the new venue will help further develop Edmonton's deep-rooted theatre arts community.

"When they actually brought out the picture of the new design with the Roxy sign on it, I actually had a little tear in my eye," said Hagen, who first gained fame in 1996 with his play The Edmonton Queen: Not a Riverboat Story. 

Hagen noted the Roxy has helped launch countless careers in the past, including those of singer k.d. lang and playwright Brad Fraser.

"My very first plays were produced on that stage as well," Hagen said. "It's exciting to think that there's this brand-new building that's going to be state of the art, the next generation is going to be able to take advantage of legacy that's been there before."

Pride in Theatre Network's success

The rebuild will help 124th Street restaurants and cafés that relied on pedestrian traffic the Roxy helped produce. 

"The Roxy represented a unique and individual company that in their absence has drastically affected the evenings on the street, " said Garner Beggs, a co-owner of the Duchess Bake Shop next door to where the theatre used to be.

Beggs, who is also co-chair of the area's business association, said the new building will bring vibrancy back to the 124th Street corridor.

Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman said Edmontonians and Albertans can take pride in Theatre Network's success.

"As a fan of theatre, I'm proud of the incredible depth of talent that we have here in Alberta on the stage and behind the scenes," Hoffman said.