By Matthew Liebenberg
The sudden announcement about the Lyric Theatre’s temporary closure will shutter the building’s doors for several months, but it is unavoidable due to the need for essential upgrades.
The Lyric board of directors announced the closure in a media statement on May 26. Gordon McCall, the theatre’s artistic and executive director, provided details during an interview with the Prairie Post on May 31.
The theatre closure resulted from a notice issued by the Swift Current Fire Department and the City of Swift Current about fire and safety requirements for the building.
“It was a very short notice, but when you stand back and take a look at it, the reality is something that we all support,” he said. “These things need to be done for the safety of all of us in the building and audiences. So we have no complaint about that. This is something that’s absolutely necessary. It came about because there’s a few building upgrades or repairs that have been sitting there for a while, and obviously they cost money and they didn’t get done.”
The notice was issued to the Lyric Theatre after the most recent building inspection by the Swift Current Fire Department.
“The City called us for a meeting and showed us their assessment of the building, and said it would have to be done very soon,” he said. “Not that it could all be done immediately, but it has to start now and people can’t be allowed in the building while this is underway.”
It also means the building is off-limits to Lyric Theatre staff until the required work is completed.
“We can’t be in the building unless we’re going in to get something out of the building and that’s on a very limited basis,” he noted. “We have to let City Hall know when we’re going in and when we’re leaving, and that’s all to do with safety. So that process is underway. We’ve had to cancel some events and the City has been helpful in trying to help people get to different venues, and we appreciate that.”
McCall explained that these upgrades to the building’s structure are all related to fire and safety requirements. For example, two arched openings in the basement between storage areas cannot be closed off.
“There’s no closure between the two spaces,” he said. “So you’ve got to have fire doors, which are steel. It’s longer than two normal doors. They’ll have to figure something out there.”
There is already fire separation between the basement and the theatre’s main floor, which acts as a barrier against the spread of fire. However, there is currently not a similar separation between the main floor and the upstairs area.
The public does not have access to the upstairs area and it is only used as an office space, but the fire separation is still required.
“So it’s all basic stuff, a lot of the repairs being fireproof drywall, some doors, and then fire separation between floors, but could be somewhat costly,” he said.
He emphasized that a lot of renovations related to safety and structural issues were done several years ago in the building, which was constructed in 1912. It required a lot of money to carry out the previous work, even though it is not so visible.
“Everything that’s been done in terms of renovations to this point has been what I would call structural and infrastructure, and you can’t see it to the naked eye unless you do a tour of the theatre,” he said. “So this phase is completing some of the things that weren’t done in that first goal, because of lack of money. And then other things that might have appeared, but weren’t considered necessary at that time to get done. It could be like filling in an opening and part of a ceiling that the fire could escape up, et cetera. It all makes sense. It’s all totally legitimate and the theatre will get it done.”
The details of the upgrades, permit requirements and the appointment of contractors must still be worked out. The total cost of this project is therefore still to be determined.
The media release by the Lyric board of directors referred to fundraising and those details are also still to be determined. It is expected the work will take until September or October 2023, but actual completion will depend on various factors and timelines as the project unfolds.
The lack of access to the building means the Great Southwest Shakespeare Festival will not take place this summer.
“In order to do the festival, the building is our hub of operations,” he explained. “That’s where we have costumes and props. We even set up a costume building shop in the theatre last summer. So we can’t do it without the building.”
However, the Shakespeare Summer Day Camp for Youth that takes place in association with the festival is set to go ahead as planned. McCall said most of the details for the youth camp are already in place.
“We’re going to do it over in Market Square under the tent, because the camp is during the week,” he noted. “It’s Monday through Friday. So that allows the Saturday market and all that to happen. This is with the great support of the City. We’re very happy about that.”
He emphasized the re-opening of the Lyric Theatre will depend on the timeline for completing the building upgrades, but programming will certainly resume.
“The Lyric’s here to stay,” he said. “So I have no concern about that, but it’s all dependent on timeline. And in terms of events in the fall, we’ll just watch the schedule as it proceeds and alert people to things as they come up.”