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The Pantages must go on

Here’s hoping memory-packed theatre has many more birthdays

Posted: 03/9/2014 11:11 AM | Comments: 0

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Trudy Schroeder hopes plans for refurbishing the 100-year-old theatre will be put into action soon.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Trudy Schroeder hopes plans for refurbishing the 100-year-old theatre will be put into action soon. Photo Store

PANTAGES Theatre has quietly celebrated 100 years since its official opening on Feb. 9, 1914.

This theatre, part of the Winnipeg story for a full century, continues to serve our community for professional and amateur performances throughout the year.

Many of us can connect special moments in our lives with this theatre. I remember attending World Adventure Tour presentations in the theatre with my parents when I was a little girl, singing in the Winnipeg Music Festival in the hall with different school choirs, and attending some of my first concerts as a teenager in this location.

A Bruce Cockburn concert in the 1970s comes to mind as a highlight of that era for me. I suppose that is the wonderful thing about our built history in Winnipeg.

The buildings are wonderful reminders of our personal history and also the history of the optimistic and resilient people who have made this community their home over many years. 

When I look at this hall, I feel the history of the performances in this space.

I can imagine the incredible excitement of the community as this building opened with a kind of glamour and flourish that spoke of a sense of arrival.

The excellent railway connections from Winnipeg at that time made this theatre a suitable central hub for the 75-theatre Pantages chain of vaudeville houses.

Winnipeg was the producing centre for shows that would travel by train to the Pantages theatres throughout North America. In those early days, the hall saw performers such as Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and Houdini perform on the stage. Some years later, classical musicians of international reputation performed here as part of a Celebrity Concert Series.

Vladimir Horowitz, Paul Robeson, Laurence Tibbet and Jascha Heifetz performed here. This theatre has been an important nurturing place for local talent as well.

In June 1940, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet made its first performance at Pantages Theatre, and the theatre productions that were staged in this hall were the starting place for what would later become the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

So many wonderful performances have been held in this space. The theatre has been the height of glamour, with wonderful plasterwork, gilding, glazing, and 3,000 light bulbs spreading light over the green, gold and cream coloured elegance of the space.

This hall was designed by one of the outstanding theatre designers in North America, Marcus Pretica.

Among his other theatres is the Hollywood Pantages, where the Academy Awards were held for many years. Now this facility needs some real work to refresh the space, improve the seating, stage and technical components of the space and add backstage capacity and amenities.

I encourage our community members to take a look at this wonderful part of our community history, see the potential for this space to serve our community for many years to come.

On June 29, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra will be hosting a special birthday concert in honour of Pantages Theatre.

In the meantime, raise a glass to celebrate this lovely survivor of another era in the history of Winnipeg. Happy 100th birthday Pantages Theatre... may you have many more.

 

Trudy Schroeder is executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

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