CAT celebrates opening of City Centre Stage

The curtain rose on a dynamic, new live theatre space in downtown Red Deer, Wednesday, with the official opening of City Centre Stage.

Central Alberta Theatre president Paolo Mancuso welcomes the first audience at the City Centre Stage during the Grande Opening event on Wednesday.

Central Alberta Theatre president Paolo Mancuso welcomes the first audience at the City Centre Stage during the Grande Opening event on Wednesday.

The curtain rose on a dynamic, new live theatre space in downtown Red Deer, Wednesday, with the official opening of City Centre Stage.

After an outdoor ribbon cutting ceremony that included performances from Red Deer Royals drummers and local dance students, members of the public got a first glimpse inside the old movie house turned into a live stage venue.

“They’ve done a first-rate job of it,” concluded an impressed Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas, who admired the freshly painted and carpeted interior. The former Uptown movie theatre on 49th Street includes a nearly 300-seat live theatre with a 16-metre-wide stage, a 107-seat smaller theatre with a movie screen, and a multi-purpose dining area.

The Central Alberta Theatre renovation project was a year in the making, involving a $525,000 investment, a small price break from Scott Builders, and a small grant and loan from the City of Red Deer. Most importantly, it involved thousands of hours of volunteer labour from CAT members, who did everything from scrubbing washrooms and pop-stained floors to painting and carpentry work.

Dallas praised CAT members for their great foresight and drive in launching the labour-heavy project. The 42-year-old organization is not only one of Canada’s oldest community theatres, “it has a rich history of making a lot of wise decisions,” said Dallas, who believes the new live theatre space will have great benefits for the city’s core.

CAT’s executive-director William Trefry revealed he’s already discussing possible tie-in promotions with downtown restaurants that will soon be revealed through CAT’s website.

“We’re very happy with this. It’s a fabulous building,” said Trefry, who noted the space is being leased from private owners. “We think it will be a very wonderful addition to the city’s downtown, with a lot of economic spin-off.”

Trefry noted other groups are already interested in the space. The nearby Donald School of Business recently rented a theatre for a student orientation. A group fighting cancer is holding a fundraising gala there, and there are plans to run monthly Yuk Yuks comedy nights.

Links are also being forged with other community groups, such as Against the Wall Theatre, which entertained members of the public at the Scott Block Wednesday until City Centre Stage opened for guided tours. Ignition Theatre is also planning to lease space from CAT for its productions.

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling loves the concept of private business and volunteer sectors coming together to create something beneficial for the community. “It’s very gratifying for me . . . it’s wonderful to see this building put to this kind of use.”

While such a big project doesn’t come without hitches, Trefry said they were all resolved — from the additional money needed for a new sprinkler system, to “engineering issues” uncovered as holes were put into walls. The latest hitch is the need for one more emergency exit out of the new 300-seat theatre, but Trefry said the last door will be installed before the first production, Sexy Laundry, opens on Oct. 7.

With expanded space, CAT is also expanded its season from five to seven plays. While four of them will have a dinner theatre option, for the first time, these plays will also be available without the dinner — and Trefry noted there’s already many play-only subscriptions being sold. “We’re happy about that because our real love has always been live theatre.”

Trefry believes the sales show that much of the audience is also coming for the plays rather than the dinner.

CAT member Judith Moody said she and other members contributed more than 3,000 volunteer hours to the reno project because they are passionate about theatre. Making connections with other groups will hopefully mean more future involvement from young people in CAT, she added. “Rather than being just spokes, we want to be spokes in a wheel — a hub of theatre.”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com