One of the casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic is large gatherings of people indoors. Like other community spaces, theatres in Sault Ste. Marie and around the globe temporarily have their doors locked and curtains drawn. But with more than 100 years of history, theatre in the Sault is well equipped to handle the challenge.
Since the early 1900s, community theatre troops have borrowed school facilities to stage their plays. The Algoma District School Board (called the Sault Ste. Marie Board of Education) and local theatre groups shared the goal of teaching culture in the community.
“For years, the Clayton Auditorium at the Sault Collegiate Institute was the venue of choice for local performing groups,” said Norm Fera over email with SooToday. “Facilities were eventually also developed at the Sault Technical School [known colloquially as ‘the Tech’], then Korah C & VS and finally at White Pines C & VS.”
Fera is the President of the Sault Community Theatre Centre.
By the 1970s and 80s, Fera said that local theatre groups, musicians and dance studios had become “the backbone of the community’s cultural life.”
Despite this, there was no free-standing arts centre in the city — artists were still borrowing venues from schools.
A series of reports were commissioned, which “concluded that the community required a multipurpose theatre that would accommodate an audience of about 1,000.”
Fera said, “until the community could afford to build and maintain a dedicated, free-standing facility, the White Pines Auditorium offered the best potential for development,” which was built in 1974.
By the mid-1980s, local architect Perry Short donated his time and money to upgrade the Auditorium and its equipment for the purpose of staging Sault Community Theatre Centre plays. Additional funds came from a federal-provincial grant, the City of Sault Ste. Maire and the Kiwanis Club.
The theatre itself was named the Kiwanis Theatre and has since been renamed after the Sault Community Theatre Centre.
The venue itself operates as a charity and is used by the school board for school plays and other school functions.
At this time, the theatre also began operating a box office in the Station Mall.
“The facility also supports and advances the educational program of the school board — in particular White Pines’ unique dedicated performing arts program. The theatre is capably assisted by a full-time Technical Director with vast experience in the technical aspects of theatre operations.”
The final project can seat over 900 spectators (including 10 wheelchair seats) along with “modern lighting, an articulated orchestra pit/thrust stage, fly rigging, variable room and stage acoustics.”
Actors enjoy a rehearsal area, workshop, dressing rooms and a green room (the room where actors wait before entering on stage).
When there is not a pandemic, the theatre operates by renting out its facilities to local art groups and touring shows. Shows on the horizon include the Simon and Garfunkel Story, Soo Sings for Kids, and Queen: It’s Kinda Magic.
Currently, the Sault Community Theatre Centre is following its Strategic Plan for 2020-2025, which seeks to resume operations as soon as it is safe and permitted.
It has “a mission to promote and facilitate art and cultural opportunities,” said Fera.
Other organizations that organize theatre in the city include the Musical Comedy Guild of Sault Ste. Marie, Sault Theatre Workshop and the In Your Eyes Project.