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Participants in the walking tour of Toronto performance spaces may be able to see the chandelier in the performance space at the recently-renovated Roy Thomson Hall.

Photo/Tourism Toronto

by Mark Castle
Architecture Commission


Toronto Theatre Gems
Await Tour Participants

At this year's conference in historic Toronto, the Architecture Commission invites you to tour the city's vibrant theatre district. The tour will visit five theatres over the course of one afternoon, all within comfortable walking distance of the expo center.

The tour features a wide variety of theatre types from concert hall to dance theatre, ranging from the oldest theatre in town to the most modern. The tour will be a double session from 2:30 p.m. to approximately 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 17.

First on the itinerary, The Princess of Wales Theatre, is a new 2,000-seat playhouse built by the father and son producing team of David and Ed Mirvish, who also own and operate Toronto's historic Royal Alexandra Theatre. The Princess of Wales is the first privately owned and financed theatre built in Canada since 1907, and the first anywhere in North America in over 30 years.

The theatre was built with maximum flexibility in mind. Its stage is one of the widest and deepest in North America - large enough to accommodate the most spectacular theatrical productions - and its technical facilities are state-of-the-art.

The auditorium features a horseshoe-shaped, two-balcony seating plan with balconies connected to the proscenium by box seats. Even with seating on three levels (orchestra, dress circle, and balcony), the Princess of Wales is surprisingly intimate. None of its seats is more than 85 feet from the stage, and all enjoy excellent sight lines in an acoustically near-perfect auditorium.

Next visit is the historic Royal Alexandra Theatre, a masterpiece of beaux arts architecture. This beautiful and intimate 1,400-seat theatre is Toronto's senior theatre and, at 97, the oldest continuously operating legitimate theatre in North America.

The "Royal Alex" has been called "an Edwardian jewel-box." It is a treasure chest of imported marble, hand-carved cherry and walnut, fine silks and velvets, crystal chandeliers, and ornate, gilded plaster. All were constructed on the city's first steel-framed structure which allowed cantilevered balconies with no internal pillars to obstruct lines of sight. All was build over a huge ice-pit that made this theatre one of the first "air conditioned" buildings in North America.

The Royal Alexandra is also North America's only truly "royal." It is royal by patent from Edward VII and named with royal permission for his consort, Alexandra, a Danish princess and great-grandmother of the present queen.

Since its opening in 1907, over 3,000 productions have played the Royal Alexandra. Its roster of stars is an honor-roll of twentieth century theatre: John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Katherine Cornell, Helen Hayes, Orson Welles, Ruth Gordon, Al Jolson, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Pickford, Cedric Hardwicke, Sydney Greenstreet, John and Ethel Barrymore, Fred and Adele Astaire, Harry Lauder, Maurice Evans, Alan Bates, Marilyn Miller, and Deborah Kerr. Edith Piaf sang here, Paul Robeson did Othello here, the Marx Brothers made Alex audiences laugh, and Mae West made them blush.

Finally on this side of town, is Roy Thomson Hall, a 2,600 seat concert hall originally designed by Arthur Erickson in 1982. It just reopened after an extensive renovation of the auditorium by Artec Consultants and Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects.

The tour will then pass back by the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and move on to the Harbourfront Theatre Centre, a 300- to 400-person flexible theatre space created in an ice storage facility. It was one of a collection of industrial buildings serving commercial harbor activities from the 1920s through to the 1970s. Its transformation into the Harbourfront Centre Theatre began in 1986 when it was redesigned by Peter Smith of Lett/Smith Architects. The area was then developed by the Federal Government as a tourist and cultural destination. Today the theatre is a preferred venue for many groups in the performing arts community as well as for corporate rentals.

The tour will conclude at the Premiere Dance Theatre on Queens Quay. Adjacent to the Harbourfront Theatre Centre, this 446-seat proscenium theatre, designed primarily for dance, is quite literally in the centre of a large renovated warehouse and commercial facility originally known as Queen's Quay Terminal.

With its award-winning architectural design by Eberhard Zeidler, the reconstruction of the original Queen's Quay Terminal has remained a landmark on Toronto's waterfront. Occupying the third floor of the building, the Premiere Dance Theatre was officially opened in 1983 and continues to play host to an internationally acclaimed, contemporary dance.

Join us as we take the opportunity to stroll the city and visit the cultural jewels of Toronto's bustling theatre community. Signup sheets will be available near the USITT registration area. Space is limited, and participants will need to be able to walk

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