Theatre community devastated after Roxy fire

Roxy Theatre GigCity EdmontonPeople mourn the sudden loss of a beloved building as much as the passing of an old friend – and although no one was injured in the fire that destroyed the historic Roxy Theatre Tuesday morning, the Edmonton theatre community is in a state of shock.

Words like “heartbroken” and “devastated” are prevalent in the outpouring of grief on social media in the wake of the disaster, as theatre people from here and across Canada were swift with offers of support, along with memories of good times past. Left temporarily homeless is Theatre Network, the award-winning company that’s run shows in the building for decades. Cast and crew for the new show Cheerleader, which was to set to start previews Tuesday night, were doing prep work in the theatre the evening before the fire started, just before 4 am on Jan. 13. The roof and several walls collapsed before a team of 50 firefighters brought the blaze under control a few hours later. The cause has not yet been determined.

Theatre Network tweeted a statement this morning, “Thank you everyone for your support today. Anyone who touched the Roxy is devastated. Let the Roxy live on through you today.”

NextFest Roxy Theatre GigCity EdmontonThe Roxy, which opened as a movie theatre in 1938, became a live performance venue in 1989. It’s almost impossible to count the memorable shows that took place there. Comedy shows like CBC’s The Irrelevant Show and Hey Ladies! were regular attractions, as was Darrin Hagen’s Guys In Disguise, which mounted many shows in the theatre. The venue was also home to the annual NextFest, a showcase for emerging artists. Hosting work from veteran locals like Marty Chan and Chris Craddock along with visitors like edgy puppeteer Ronnie Burkett, plays in the Roxy have earned dozens of Sterling Awards.

“It’s a terrible loss for the Roxy and all the people there, their jobs, their livelihoods, all the archived work lost,” says director Trevor Schmidt, who also produced a number of shows in the building over the years. “It’s also a huge loss for the theatre community in general. It leaves a hole in all of live theatre in Edmonton.”

The Roxy was also a popular venue for live music. Hard Core Logo – Live and The Christmas Carol Project are just two shows that crossed genres from theatre to music at the Roxy, along with straight band performances. 100 Mile House, the Provincial Archive and the Gibson Block are just three local indie bands that have hosted CD release events at the Roxy.

“Aside from Winspear Centre, the Roxy was my favourite place to play,” says local musician Dale Ladouceur. “It was like the centre of Coolsville. The sound was decent, but the vibe of the Roxy was the thing. There was a warmth, a casualness and an unpretentiousness, and that was reflected in all the staff that worked there. It was a great place for multi-media shows. It was cool enough for punk rock and cool enough for folkies. I’m very sad. I’m in mourning.”

No word yet if Cheerleader can be salvaged and moved to another venue, but there’s already been talk and it’s probable that the Roxy team and the rest of the tight-knit Edmonton theatre community – which is to say all of it – will do their best to have this show go on.