Burton Cummings Theatre now features more Burton
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There is more history, and more of Burton Cummings’ history, to see at the Burton Cummings Theatre.
The Studio Lounge, a renovated space in the 115-year-old auditorium that hasn’t been opened to the public in years, was unveiled Wednesday, showing off a view of the Exchange District from the theatre’s large semi-circular second-storey window and the former office space of Corliss Powers Walker, the impresario who built the former vaudeville venue first called the Walker Theatre in 1907.
Adorning the tan-coloured brick walls are Cummings’ artifacts from his days with the Guess Who and his solo career, including posters, album covers and framed handwritten lyrics of songs such as These Eyes, Running Back to Saskatoon, Stand Tall and Break It to Them Gently.
Also in the new space is a small upright piano owned by his grandparents, believed to be about 100 years old and on which he took his first lessons.
“They offered us the piano and it grew from there,” says Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president of venues and entertainment for True North Sports and Entertainment, which bought the theatre in 2014. “At first they offered a big, white grand piano and I doubt we have room for that. Getting that one up the stairs was tough enough.”
The Studio Lounge is connected to the eastern part of the theatre’s lower-balcony concourse, which prior to the recent renovation had been a brick wall that offered no clue there was another room behind it, as well as the view from the window.
It had been home to Doowah Design until the business’s lease ran out Nov. 1, which is when True North began engineering, masonry and carpentry work to connect the space with the rest of the theatre.
They knocked down part of the wall to make room for the new passageway between the Studio Lounge and the concourse and used those bricks to build the passageway’s frame, making it look like it had been part of the Burt all along.
“It turned out the structural steel is directly below it so there is a good base for the stairs,” Donnelly says of the passageway.
True North also stripped a century’s worth of paint from the large window frame and added insulation that helps keep the area warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
It has room for 80 to 100 people, and also includes a bar, tables, chairs and video monitors that Donnelly says will eventually provide the same views of concerts transmitted to monitors located on each end of the Burt’s upper balcony.
“In a theatre that is just so dramatically short of lobby space, this is gold, absolutely,” he says.
True North has also received inquiries about using the Studio Lounge when there isn’t an event at the theatre.
Visitors can view the space without a ticket for the rest of the week from 1-4 p.m., and it was open Wednesday night to ticketholders for the first of two Cummings’ concerts this week.
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Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.