Seven years after fire, the Roxy Theatre throws open its doors once again

The $12-million, three-level entertainment venue houses two performance spaces, a glass-walled rehearsal space, a workshop, art gallery and an elegant art deco-inspired washroom.

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It took seven long and challenging years, but the new Roxy Theatre has finally risen from the ashes — a fact celebrated Thursday during a gala event attended by politicians, donors and artists.

The original Roxy, a former movie house and home to Theatre Network since 1989, was destroyed by fire in 2015. Now in its place is a $12-million, three-level entertainment venue that houses two performance spaces — the 200-seat Nancy Power Theatre and the 90-seat Lorne Cardinal Theatre — plus a glass-walled rehearsal space, a workshop and an art gallery.

In marked contrast to the old digs, the new Roxy features an elegant public washroom with art deco-inspired mirrors and lighting and 10 gender-neutral, fully-enclosed stalls.

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“We know the incredible vibrancy that’s been building on this street,” said ward O-day’min councillor Anne Stevenson, who brought greetings from the city to gala attendees. “The Roxy Theatre is a big part of that.”

Designed by Group 2 Architecture Interior Design Ltd. and built by Chandos Construction, the building at 124 Street and 107 Avenue represents the culmination of a dream (and sometimes a nightmare) for Theatre Network’s Bradley Moss.

“I felt so awful when we lost (The Roxy) and in my soul, I said, ‘I have to put it back.’ And now we’re here,” said Moss, artistic director for the past 23 years, in a phone interview before the opening night party.

In what he called “one of life’s little ironies,” Moss wasn’t able to attend the gala after being diagnosed with COVID-19. But he comforted himself with the knowledge that “this is just the beginning.”

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This summer, the new theatre will host its signature Nextfest, a multidisciplinary festival of emerging talent. It will also pilot a student drama camp and become a venue for the Fringe Festival in August. Theatre Network’s 2022/23 season will be announced shortly with the first show to debut in the fall.

The building is a miracle of stagecraft, said Moss, crediting the architect and Ottawa theatre consultant Martin Conboy for many of its delicate touches. He particularly loves the tightly-pitched ship’s ladder found in the technical booth of the Nancy Power that makes it possible to spring up the ladder and move swiftly over the metal grid hanging high above the audience to deal with a technical emergency such as a dead battery.

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Other highlights include lower-level sprung floors that protect artists’ knees, but also make strolling around the art gallery (presently featuring work by Jason Carter) more comfortable for patrons. The Baltic birch feature wall in the Lorne Cardinal is not only beautiful but serves as a projection screen in the flexible, black-box space built for intimate productions.

Funded primarily by the federal, provincial and municipal governments, the theatre has raised more than $1 million from the public, with another $440,000 still to go. Though The Roxy is still a work in progress — there are no dimmers on the light switches and many computer chips are still on order — Moss is excited about the potential of the building to showcase not just theatre, but musical concerts and dance shows, too. Movies could even be shot in the Lorne Cardinal theatre.

“The whole downstairs is pipe and grid. Lights can be hung to facilitate all kinds of shows,” he said. “It’s a playpen.”

The first production to be held on the Nancy Power stage with William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, A Radical Retelling by Cliff Cardinal, which opens April 26. 


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