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After more than 30 years of a peripatetic existence, the Theatre Centre finally has a permanent place to live: the former Carnegie Library, a 104-year-old heritage property at 1115 Queen West.
One of the most exciting arts organizations in the country and known as an incubator for new work, the Centre was established in 1979 by a group of companies as a indie cooperative; the founders included Buddies in Bad Times, Autumn Leaf Theatre, AKA Performance Interface, Necessary Angel and Nightwood.
The Centre's first residence was at the corner of Broadview and Danforth; over the years it's had nine moves around town, to sites that include King West, the Poor Alex at Brunswick and Bloor and a fifth-story walkup on St. Nicholas. Most recently it's welcomed audiences and artists to a basement location at 1087 Queen West, only a few steps east of the library.
On Thursday (October 11), the Theatre Centre held a groundbreaking for the new space, set to open in the fall of 2013.
Not even a cold, blustery day could dampen the enthusiasm of the 150 or so people standing in front of the 1908 building as passionate general and artistic director Franco Boni led off the speeches by saying that he felt like he was at a wedding and proudly proclaimed, "I do."
The launch was exciting on another level, too, since the audience included not only the various funders but also a rare gathering of three decades of artists who've worked at the Centre and contributed to Toronto's rich cultural life.
Several other speakers also mentioned the importance of that cultural life. Among those who came to the microphone were representatives of all three levels of government, each of which has contributed to the renovation of the space. City councilor Ana Bailão was especially jubilant about the coming together of the arts community and developers to enrich the revitalized Queen West area.
In addition to federal, provincial and municipal contributions, the private sector (including the George Cedric Metcalf Foundation, Urbancorp and TD Bank) and individual donors have raised 84 per cent of the $6.2 million capital campaign funds. The project is to be designed by Philip Goldsmith, whose firm Goldsmith Borgal & Company has already worked on the National Ballet School and the Toronto Brickworks.
There are local supporters, too, among them the nearby Drake Hotel, a donor for whom the main stairway in the renovated building will be named.
"The Drake's also set up a fellowship for people who work at the hotel," said Boni, who's helmed the Theatre Centre since 2003, in a post-launch interview. "Artists Zoe Sweet and Christine Aziz are the first holders of the fellowship; it will give them the chance to access a professional performing arts centre that can enrich their own creative careers.
"The mentoring goes in the other direction, too, for we'll learn about marketing and other things from the Drake. It's a kind of two-way mentorship that works beautifully with what the Theatre Centre has previously done informally and now we'll make more formal.
"Importantly, it's not a top-down mentoring but rather sharing between peers."
The renovated library, which will retain its original Edwardian façade, will include a flexible main performing space that can seat 200, a glass-walled café, gallery spaces and a green-roofed terrace.
Other uses for the building are also possible, Boni suggests, including language classrooms.
"I can't yet imagine everything the spaces in this building might hold, in addition to its being an arts research laboratory," he says happily. "I want the community to use the building as a playground."
Boni looks forward to the Theatre Centre's first production next fall, "one that honours the heritage of the building, volunteerism and the gift of this building to the artists and residents of the community."
Until then, the Theatre Centre has a storefront pop-up space at 1095 Queen West, between its former residence and its new home.