KAWARTHA LAKES – The lights have dimmed, curtains closed and the sound of applause has long since faded at the Academy Theatre in Lindsay.
The venerable piece of local history has remained closed for a year due to the pandemic and is trying to stay afloat during one of its biggest challenges since it opened in 1893.
“We’re in, I would say, life support mode,” said General Manager, Craig Metcalf. “It’s been awfully quiet, we haven’t opened at all. We are keeping the lights on, paying the bills, we will be here when it’s time to open but we don’t know exactly when, and it will be costly to restart the operation.”
And to keep the historical, downtown gem up and running, the theatre is hoping to find relief in various fundraising efforts as the warmer weather approaches.
According to Metcalf, fundraisers will be announced shortly but the theatre is planning to join forces with the Lindsay drive-in this summer.
Metcalf noted that last fall a fundraiser was held at the drive-in and brought in approximately 40,000 dollars to support the theatre.
“The challenge for live performing arts theatre, we are stuck at a 50-person capacity, that’s less than 10 per cent of our capacity,” he said. “Retail and food services are allowed a greater capacity than we are, and there is nothing we can do here that wouldn’t lose money, we’re simply not in a position to do that, financially it doesn’t make sense.”
Metcalf noted that it will be costly to restart the operation which is why the theatre is seeking the public’s help.
“We do need financial support to restart the operation and resume full capacity, we don’t receive any operating funding from any level of government, fundraising is specifically for operating costs at the theatre,” he said. “Physically it is an anchor in the downtown, there it is at the end of the main street, an important part of our cultural landscape in Lindsay.”
Since the pandemic began, the theatre has sent home four employees. As the General Manager, Metcalf is currently receiving the Canadian emergency wage subsidy, which pays 75 per cent of his salary. And even though the theatre remains quiet and empty, Metcalf returns to work every day to check on the theatre, schedule events for 2022, plan fundraisers and pay the bills while trying to maintain some normalcy in his own day-to-day schedule.
According to Mayor Andy Letham, the arts, culture and heritage organizations are an important part of our community and have also been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“The Academy Theatre has been a mainstay in Kawartha Lakes. The last year has been a real struggle for theatres such as the Academy Theatre. Its board and the community at large are working to see that we have it here for years to come,” he said. “The many fundraising activities the Academy has organized offer a great chance for our community to come together and support live music in Kawartha Lakes.”
The theatre was built in 1893 and went through various iterations over the years. Metcalf noted that the theatre was once home to an opera house, a concert hall and a cinema.
“That happened to a lot of theatres of this vintage, people stopped attending shows, it starts to get run down, so it was turned it into a movie theatre,” he said. “It was slated for demolition in the 1960s, nobody was operating it and it sat empty.”
But in 1962 a group formed the Academy Theatre Foundation, former premier of Ontario, Leslie Frost, was also part of the initiative which eventually raised approximately $1 million dollars to protect the theatre from demolition. The venue has remained untouched since then, boasting its beautiful, vintage charm.
The facility houses 542 seats and earns most of its funds through various rentals. The Academy Theatre staff also produces their own fall presentation every year which is also one of their biggest financial resources.
Metcalf noted that while the theatre is a beautiful piece of history that anchors the downtown core, it is also vital in providing many young people with rare opportunities.
“As a non-profit, it doesn’t make a lot of money, the goal is to be able to offer this as a resource to the community from an entertainment perspective and development,” he said. “Thirteen Juno winners started at the academy theatre, it’s a cultural incubator, a lot of youth have an opportunity to be part of a professional theatre.”
For more information or to donate, visit http://academytheatre.ca or visit their Facebook page at Academy Theatre.