London

$8M renovation project puts Grand Theatre in the spotlight

When the curtain drops at the end of the Grand Theatre’s 2020 season, the downtown venue will start to undergo an $8-million dollar, five-month long renovation project, officials announced Thursday.

The federal government is footing half the bill

The Grand Theatre's artistic director, Dennis Garnhum, said almost every part of the building will be touched by the upgrades.

When the curtain drops at the end of the Grand Theatre's 2020 season, the downtown venue will start to undergo an $8-million, five-month long renovation project, officials announced Thursday.

From the bathrooms to the lighting systems, Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum said nearly every part of the theatre will be touched by the upgrades.

"The theatre is [from] 1901, and it's extraordinary," he explained. But one of its challenges is that people don't realize how extraordinary the theatre is when they're greeted by the front of house, he said. 

"We need to make sure it's more inviting from the street, bright from the street, which will make you want to come in… [and] there's something to do in there before you see the play."

The box office, lobby, bars, meeting spaces and washrooms are all getting an overhaul. The renovations, dubbed Reno2020, will also expand the size of the wardrobe and props department, replace four of the building's seven roofs, and upgrade the lighting and sound system.  

The Grand Theatre will also be getting its own projector, and a new fly system with rigging and ropes that allow equipment and people to fly. 

Deb Harvey, the Grand Theatre's executive director, announced plans to step down after the upcoming 2021-22 season. (CBC)

"The house itself, which is probably one of the most beautiful theatres in North America, doesn't get changed," said Executive Director Deb Harvey. Nor will it impact the beginning of the season in October 2020, she said. 

"I think people will be very impressed with a modern look on the front of house."

The federal government is footing half the bill, with a $4.1-million investment announced by London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos on behalf of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism.

Harvey said they were able to generate $2 million through private donations, which the City of London matched. The theatre is renaming some of its spaces in order to recognize those contributors.

The Poster Lounge on the fourth floor is becoming The Drewlo Lounge, the McManus Theatre will turn into the Auburn Developments Theatre, the lobby will be dubbed the Terracorp Lounge, while the box office is being named after Karen and Eric Auzins. 

"I think the moment you upgrade and update the spaces, and make it more beautiful, it represents the creativity and innovation that we have on our stage," said Harvey.

"I think we add enormous value to our city. We are world curious, and we are London proud, and I think people know that," he said. 

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