A Victoria couple’s passion for theatre is helping to transform a tired Quadra Street cinema into a new venue for live performances.
Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre has purchased the Roxy Theatre for $965,000 from businessman Michael Sharpe. “We just signed the documents this morning,” Blue Bridge artistic director Brian Richmond said Wednesday.
He said his company will offer a combination of theatre and film at the Roxy, on Quadra Street near Hillside Avenue.
Blue Bridge will officially announce the purchase Thursday by launching a campaign to raise $2 million to pay for the building and renovations. This will include selling naming rights to the Roxy.
“This is an enormous turning point,” Richmond said. “If we accomplish this, it means we’re going to be a fixture on the local scene for good, basically. It will offer us financial stability.”
Key to Blue Bridge’s aquisition was a loan for the purchase amount from Michael Salomon, an entrepreneur and engineer, and his wife Shauna Baird, an actor and director. The company has 30 months to repay this debt.
“You would not get this deal at the bank. It’s an extraordinarily generous deal,” Richmond said.
Victoria-raised Baird is the daughter of former city councillor Janet Baird. She and her husband decided to financially support Blue Bridge after being impressed by its production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
“I’m passionate about theatre. Wherever we have lived, Michael and I have believed you dig down deep, put down roots,” Baird said.
Salomon and Baird moved to Victoria recently after living in Paris for seven years. Baird was a key player in the acquisition and renovation of The Grand — a century-old theatre — for Calgary’s Theatre Junction in 2005.
Blue Bridge board president Grania Litwin said the 300-seat Roxy — a 1949 Quonset hut — needs much work to transform it into a dual-use theatre space and cinema.
“It’s very run down ... There’s no real stage there. There’s no backstage. There are no dressing rooms. There’s just a great rectangle,” she said.
The Roxy will eventually be equipped with stage lighting, a refurbished lobby, a stage, a dressing room, a backstage and office area as well as more washrooms. On the cinema side, the Roxy will convert from 35mm film to digital.
Blue Bridge will continue to mount plays at the McPherson Playhouse, reducing its summer season there from three to two productions. It will mount three live shows at the Roxy during the winter season, as well as offering second-run movie screenings. It will also rent out the Roxy to community groups.
Richmond said the Roxy will provide Blue Bridge with much-needed cash flow throughout the year. The five-year-old theatre company is carrying an accumulated $128,000 deficit on a $1 million operating budget.
It will be cheaper for Blue Bridge to mount shows at the Roxy than at the McPherson Playhouse. While Blue Bridge gets reduced rent on the civic-owned Playhouse for some shows, it must pay the technical crew union rates (the Roxy is non-unionized).
The Roxy will also help Blue Bridge expand artistically by allowing it to stage more adventuresome theatre, Richmond said.
Blue Bridge aims to mount its first live show at the Roxy in November. In the meantime, it will continue as usual as a movie theatre.