Rapid Fire Theatre unveils a new home next month — here's a sneak peek
Improv hub gets its first permanent location in historic 1908 gem in Old Strathcona
It's no joke. The Rapid Fire Theatre improv troupe will open the doors to its first permanent home next month after more than 40 years of performing.
"We're so excited, this feels like a home away from home already," outreach director Joleen Ballendine said.
"We've been waiting for this moment for so long it kind of feels surreal."
The company signed a 40-year lease with Telus in 2021 to take over the space at 83rd Avenue and 104th Street.
WATCH | Take a tour of the new Rapid Fire Theatre space set to open next month:
You can see more from the new home of Rapid Fire Theatre on this week's edition of Our Edmonton. That's Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. Monday on CBC TV and CBC Gem.
It's a historic spot dating back to 1908 that used to be a telephone exchange building and later became the Telephone Historical Information Centre, a museum dedicated to the history of telecommunications.
The museum moved out in 2004 and since then the space has mostly sat vacant.
The main floor of the building, Phase 1 of the project, includes a 160-seat theatre, lobby, bar, concession, washrooms and artist lounge at a price tag of $3.5 million.
The troupe is now fundraising for Phase 2, which is an additional $1 million, to transform the basement into rehearsal, workshop and classroom spaces.
"I really grew up in this company [and] this company has become my family," said Ballendine, who started with Rapid Fire Theatre when she was in high school.
At 33 years old, Ballendine views this move to their own space as a graduation.
"You get to a certain point in your life you don't want to be living with your parents anymore," Ballendine said.
"You want your independence."
Artistic director Matt Schuurman beams with pride as the construction crew finishes the work on light fixtures in the dressing rooms and removing the plastic from the theatre seats in preparation for patrons next month.
"Edmonton is known around the world for being a destination for improv," Schuurman said. "We have some of the best improv talent on the planet in this city."
In the more than 40-year history of the collective, they've mounted shows like TheatreSport, Improvaganza and the Wildfire Festival: Canadian Improv Games for teens, which is playing now at the Studio Theatre of the ATB Financial Arts Barn.
As comedic nomads they've bounced around Edmonton venues like Theatre Network, the Phoenix, Chinook, Varscona and the Citadel, growing a devoted audience along the way.
Schuurman says that growth was behind the decision to make the move.
In the early 2000s, they were doing seven shows a month. Now they're producing seven or more shows a week.
"We reached a point where it was absolutely a necessity for us to have a space of our own to handle the logistics of a company," Schuurman said.
They saved and searched for two decades and he believes the historic telephone exchange building in the heart of Old Strathcona's theatre district is the perfect location.
"The exchange back and forth, the sharing of ideas, the telling of stories with our audiences, I can't think of a better fit for us."
Ensemble member Joey Lucius has been with Rapid Fire Theatre since 2007.
He's just seeing the finished space now and describes it as "overwhelming."
"I hope to live here personally, I haven't told Matt, I've been really bugging him to get a dishwasher and a washer and dryer," Lucius jokes.
He points to the little things like murals portraying the company's history and fun local nods like the giant nose parked in the lobby as special.
The theatre purchased the nose for $569 from the Telus World of Science when it decommissioned its Body Fantastic exhibit. It will be mounted to a wall, along with a pair of glasses and moustache, the company's logo.
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Lucius feels three years into the pandemic, the theatre opening is perfectly timed. "I think it's time that Edmonton laughed again."
Tickets are on sale now for two JUNO comedy shows on March 10 in the new space.