MUN's Reid Theatre can be revived, forum told

The future of the Reid Theatre was up for discussion as students, professors and the arts community gave their thoughts on how the Reid Theatre should be revitalized.
Memorial held the first of two public consultations on the future of the Reid Theatre at the Rocket Room. (CBC)

The future of the Reid Theatre at Memorial University's main campus in St. John's was up for discussion Tuesday night as students, professors and the arts community gave their thoughts on how theatre should be revitalized.

Memorial University held the first of two public consultations on the theatre on Tuesday night at the Rocket Room on Water Street.

No students productions have been staged at the Reid Theatre since it closed in early 2012. (CBC)
The Reid Theatre opened in 1961 — it was called the Little Theatre for its first decades — and has been used for countless performances of plays, concerts and film screenings. Located on the main floor of Memorial's Arts and Administration Building, the theatre in more recent years has also been used as a classroom for the diploma program in performance and communications media.  

The theatre was closed in February 2012 because of health and safety concerns, notably the presence of asbestos. 

Jamie Skidmore, an English professor at MUN, says the theatre had also been derelict for at least the last decade.

"I used to see patrons leaving with fluff on their backs because the seats were so torn up the stuffing was coming out and getting caught on people's jackets," Skidmore told CBC Radio's On The Go.  

"To me it was an indicator the theatre was in rough shape."

MUN commissioned a study of the Reid Theatre's physical structure in 2013. The study, which involved architects, engineers and theatre design consultants, determined that the theatre would need a thorough renovation.

Renovation work

Skidmore, who is also a member of the Reid Theatre committee, thinks about $10-11 million will be needed to fix up the theatre. He says the public consultations aim to ask the public if they want a renovated Reid theatre and what direction they'd like the theatre to go in. 

Former professor Steven Wolinetz: 'Any university needs at least one auditorium.' (CBC)
"We really want to create the crown jewel of the campus and make it a wonderful performing space," said Reid. "We'd like their input on how we can make it the best possible space."

Steven Wolinetz, a former political science professor at MUN, thinks the theatre is a vital part of the university. He'd like to see it renovated as an auditorium suited to different uses.

"Any university needs at least one auditorium," said Wolinetz.  "That means outfitting it not as some combined classroom lecture hall, but a place where lectures can take place, theatre can take place and modern digital film can be projected."

Courses have had to be revamped

In the meantime, the closing of the theatre has meant that theatre instructor Ruth Lawrence has to change how her courses are taught.

"With the courses I try to take a different tack because the courses focus on the practical hands-on," Lawrence said in an interview on Wednesday. 

"It's hard to do lighting and sound without the actual equipment and resources. I try to pitch the courses towards the design (aspect) which isn't exactly what it's meant to be but in the end you do go work in the theatre such as the LSPU Hall or the Barbara Barrett Theatre, but it's not as as fulsome an experience as it would be if they got to use the facilities in the Reid on an ongoing basis," Lawrence told the St. John's Morning Show

The next consultation will be held July 23 at MUN in room 1046 of the Arts and Administration Building at 3 p.m. 

Skidmore says the university will take the feedback from the consultations to the architects and theatre consultants to determine how much of the public's wishes can be carried out.