The message from those who spoke at a public meeting Tuesday night about the future of Memorial University’s Reid Theatre was consistent.
Those who would typically use the space — students involved in the one-year diploma program in performance and communications media and members of the St. John’s arts community — miss it and want it to see it treated with the respect it deserves.
“To me, the Reid and the diploma are totally linked,” said Susan Kelsey, who graduated from the Performance and Communications Media program in 2012, only a few months after the theatre was closed due to health and safety issues.
“The fact that people had to go through the diploma without having the Reid as a resource is really heartbreaking.”
Asbestos removal and repairs needed to bring the space up to fire code were among the issues that led to the theatre’s closure in February 2012. Before it was closed, the theatre was a cultural venue that hosted a variety of plays, films, musical performers, and other events. It was built in 1961 and is located inside the Arts and Administration Building.
Wonderbolt Circus used the Reid Theatre for performances for two years prior to its closure. Artistic director Beni Malone said the venue was the perfect size for Wonderbolt’s audience, but even he could tell at the time it needed some sprucing up.
“It’s a fabulous theatre and it’s exactly the right size, but it was breaking my heart the whole time I was there,” said Malone, who also has fond memories of attending many events there as an audience member over the years.
“It was a mess, really.”
Malone considers the Reid Theatre to represent a link between the university and the local arts community. Dean of Arts Lynne Phillips and Jamie Skidmore — a member of the English faculty who has also co-ordinated the performance and communications media program — both echoed that sentiment. Phillips and Skidmore co-chaired Tuesday’s meeting.
Former MUN political science professor Steven Wolinetz suggested it was unthinkable for MUN’s St. John’s campus to operate without having the Reid Theatre available for use.
“What function should it have? It should be restored to an updated version of its previous function as a centre — not necessarily only one — of campus cultural life. A university of 18,000 without one theatre where someone can mount a production (or) show a film with the latest technology is a contradiction in terms. It’s almost like a university with no place to eat.”
Ryan Murphy, executive director of external affairs for the students’ union, said students find it difficult to stage plays in the city. He indicated it would be great to have a venue on campus to accommodate such interests.
Tuesday’s consultation will inform the work of a committee tasked with completing a report on a potential design for a new and improved Reid Theatre. Another consultation is scheduled for Wednesday in room 1046 of the Arts and Administration Building. It starts at 3 p.m.
This story has been edited to correct a quote.