Nfld. & Labrador

Gutted Reid Theatre has a vision, but no funds to make it work

The Reid Theatre lent a platform for student actors, lecturers, and even folk musician Billy Bragg. Although Memorial University has a vision to reopen the theatre — there's no money to back it up.

Shut down in 2012, the MUN venue would need $14M for a makeover

The Reid Theatre has been dark since 2012. One artistic director reminisces on what it once was — and what it could be. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

The Reid Theatre may have once provided a stage for student actors, acclaimed lecturers and even U.K.-based folk musician Billy Bragg — but for much of the last decade, the space has shriveled under lock and key — completely stripped and waiting for a makeover that might not be coming any time soon.

"Everything is gone, right down to the cement structure, the cement floor," said Danielle Irvine, artistic director of Perchance Theatre in Cupids. Irvine said it was in the Reid Theatre that she got her start. 

The space is magical. Everything is ready to be inhabited again.- Danielle Irvine

"The stage, the ceiling, is gone. You can see the catwalks up above us, open and exposing where all the lighting used to be."

The Reid, a Memorial University fixture since 1961, is still flogged by administration as a venue "constructed with a vision," meant to offer a space for creatives at "the heart of a ... vibrant city."

There aren't any plans to refurbish the theatre any time soon. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Irvine backs up that claim. The theatre "was instrumental in the community at large," she said, a kind of birthplace for any budding drama star eager to experiment in a theatre big enough to hold a crowd, but no so large that a university production wouldn't fill it.

A mid-sized venue like that is lacking today, Irvine laments. The Reid closed in 2012 due to health and safety issues, and has laid dormant ever since.

A sign taped to the theatre's locked doors underscores one visitor's apparent frustration at the seven years it's been left idle. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

A 2013 structural engineering study concluded the building required a complete overhaul before it could open its doors once again. It was then stripped bare in 2015 for asbestos removal.

Plans during its deconstruction included upgrades to turn the theatre into a "state of the art" production and classroom facility, a MUN spokesperson said.

But cost estimates for that project reached $14 million — a prohibitive number given recent budget cuts, the school confirmed.

Danielle Irvine revisits her university days, when she discovered and honed a passion that would eventually lead to a career in theatre. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

While the university agrees on its vision for the theatre, no money has been set aside, nor fundraising campaigns commenced, to return the Reid to its glory days.

For Irvine, that's a tragedy worth shining a spotlight on — the indefinite loss of a dedicated place where the arts once thrived.

"The hot topics have been the sciences for a really long time," she says. "But along with it, we need to grow all parts of society ... we can't let some balls drop."

Irvine knows firsthand how a well-loved theatre can lead students to fulfillment.

"I grew up in here," she recalled. "We would come in here between classes and drink coffee, and sit on the stage, [or] lie down and look up at the ceiling and dream about our next show."

"This space is magical. Everything is just open and exposed and ready to be inhabited again."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Heather Barrett

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