Magnus adds studio theatre

·3 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — More than $5 million in funding has come through for Magnus Theatre’s Next Stage expansion project.

It will include the addition of a 125-seat studio theatre, improvements to the lounge, expansion of the production shop, renovations, structural improvements and a retrofit for the historic Central School building.

Care will be taken to preserve the integrity of the historical features within the structure that now houses the 50-year-old theatre company.

Thom Currie, the theatre’s artistic director, says their theatre plays a leading role as the cultural hub of the flourishing Waterfront Entertainment District and the growing demand for the theatre’s programming and facility rentals are stifled without the vital upgrades.

The surge of shopping, dining activities and significant revitalization in the north core of Thunder Bay brings a need for the infrastructure project.

“We have been working on infrastructure improvements for about five years and (we decided) we are not going public with this until we know that we have roughly 90 per cent (funding) of what we’re going to need,” Currie said.

“It’s been a lot of man hours, a lot of work, pitches, PowerPoint presentations and a lot of analysis of what Thunder Bay can do in terms of arts programming, support and usage for the arts in the community.”

Currie called the Thunder Bay art scene a “booming scene.” When he arrived in Thunder Bay in 2016, he had a vision of the theatre’s potential and how it could grow to maximize its impact as a cultural and economic force.

“Our current economic impact to Thunder Bay and the region is around $2.5 million a year, which is essentially more than double of what our annual budget is,” Currie said. “The economic impact is of course the ancillary spending around Magnus Theatre, not just spent by the theatre, but by people coming to Magnus.”

The expansion to include another theatre within the site will inevitably increase patronage with the expanding number of seats and availability in the building each year. The main theatre currently features 250 seats.

Currie says they’re looking ahead three years “out from construction,” of increasing between a $3.5-$3.7 million to the city’s economic impact.

“We’re going to have to increase our budget accordingly as well, but it will still be less,” he said. “That’s one of the joys and one of the anomalies in Thunder Bay is that people do support locally created art.”

Ongoing studies, surveys and statistics were done by the theatre, which meant constantly updating the site while the pandemic took its toll.

“COVID was a tough ride,” Currie said. “It was and continues to be for a lot of theatres across the country.”

The theatre is working with local company, Form Studio Architects, on the project, which includes building a 30-foot expansion at the rear of the building to house the wardrobe and serve as the new mill shop where props are built. Existing props will be stored in the basement level, which will also be renovated for additional updated dressing rooms.

The ground floor of the former schoolhouse is going to be “gutted” and a second 125-seat studio theatre, called a black box theatre, will be constructed. The lounge area will be restructured to serve both theatres.

Funding for the Next Stage project is made up of $3,137,500 from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario (FedNor); $750,000 from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation; $1,000,000, from the Trillium Community Building Fund and $94,315 from the Trillium Resilient Communities Fund.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal