Artistic and community leaders broke ground on the reincarnation of the historic Roxy Theatre — which was destroyed in a fire in January 2015 — on Monday, a building which many hope will be a “new playground for everyone.”
“Today, (the Roxy) is like a phoenix that rises out of the ashes to be rebuilt and make stronger our community,” said Elder Will Campbell as he blessed the 124 Street lot and said a prayer. “This will be a window into a lot of talent that comes from this city.”
The Roxy has been home to the Theatre Network Society, which focuses on celebrating contemporary Canadian theatre and performance since 1990. Many local leaders noted that it is an important space to explore “edgy themes” and to support theatre, LGBTQ2S+ and marginalized communities as well.
“If you’ve never paused to hold your loved one’s hand in public, then you don’t understand why you need places like the Pulse Nightclub (in Orlando) and the Roxy, because I could hold my partner’s hand here and not wonder what anybody would think,” said Randy Boissonnault, MP for Edmonton-Centre, on the original lot of the theatre on 124 Street.
Including insurance money and funding from all levels of government, the project — which is slated to be completed by the end of 2020 — has raised $10 million. Fundraising efforts for the remaining $1.5 million needed to complete the theatre are ongoing.
“It is a seminal theatre, not just for Edmonton but for the country,” said Boissonnault.
Bradley Moss, artistic and executive director of the Theatre Network Society, noted that the new building will give the society space to incorporate new artistic disciplines and support more artists from a variety of backgrounds. The rebuilt theatre will feature a 200-seat main stage as well as an 80-seat “black box” studio theatre and art gallery attached to the lobby.
“The new building is an opportunity for us to reimagine the whole facility,” said Moss. “We wanted to raise the ‘Roxy’ sign to give honour to our history and the building that was here before … it’s going to be a convergence of what is old and what is new.”
Both NDP and UCP MLAs highlighted the positive impact the rebuild will have culturally and economically for businesses along 124 Street and across Edmonton.
“We know that arts is often one of the first things to be cut in times of austerity, but we know how important it is that we invest in them,” said Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman.
“When people come here to watch theatre, they often grab a bite or a drink before or after, and it’s great for the local businesses, too.”
Leela Aheer, minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women, stressed that the UCP government is committed to continued funding for the arts in Alberta.
“The impact that it has on our children and our families and on our future cannot be understated,” she said.
The cause of the fire was never determined but arson was ruled out.