Fredericton Playhouse in need of complete reconstruction

The Fredericton Playhouse in downtown Fredericton, N.B. is pictured in this photograph on Wednesday, March 16, 2022. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

The Fredericton Playhouse brings in dozens of renowned performers and experiences every year, but behind the lights and glamour, the building is failing to meet safety codes.

For this reason, the Fredericton arts community came together to write an open letter to the municipal, provincial and federal government requesting support in building a replacement for the theatre.

“The current building was built in the early 1960s. At the time, the standards of construction and the codes were much different than they are now. It’s long been identified that the building is near [the] end of [its] life and it needs to either have a major upgrade or it needs to be replaced,” said Murray Jamer, president of the board of directors at the Playhouse.

The upgrades required to meet code would include replacing the deteriorating underground water and steam pipes, creating double fire exits in the theatre, fixing the shifting foundation, adding insulation to the building and more.

Jamer said experts consider simply renovating the building “a bad idea,” especially since it would cause the theatre’s capacity to shrink from 709 seats to 463, would remove much of the backstage area and eliminate one-third of the lobby.

“Like a lot of people, I’ve got a lot of fond memories of the Playhouse,” said Jamer. “But I think it is time to move on.”

The plan, according to the project website, would be to build a new building named the Performing Arts Centre, with a city-council-approved $14 million budget.

The project website cites the new Performing Arts Centre as Fredericton’s “number one capital project priority” and the municipal council has committed to its success, but the provincial and federal governments have yet to show support.

Over 70 artists, directors, arts professors and theatre and gallery owners agreed with Jamer and signed the open letter — including St. Thomas University professors Don Bosse and Tania Breen.

“We need a central performing arts centre for a community like Fredericton because it’s so vibrant in the arts. It’s really the catalyst for the performing arts in Fredericton,” said Bosse, director of the STU Jazz Ensemble and committee member for the “Playhouse 2.0” task force.

Bosse said the main point of the letter was to make the public more aware of critical internal issues of the Playhouse that aren’t always visible at first glance.

“There’s a lot of people who I know are out there saying ‘well, why do we need a new Playhouse? What’s the matter with this one?’ But it is really in very bad shape and disrepair. It’s time to retire it. We need a good home,” said Bosse.

For Breen, director of musical theatre at STU, she is most excited for the additional performance space in the new building — one performance space will have 800 seats and the other 300 seats.

“That [300-seat theatre] is perfect for emerging artists, … musical acts or any kind of performance. Filling that giant room is hard for some companies,” said Breen. “It’s too big of a room for some things but having another space within that same facility — it’s perfect for development.”

She said she signed the letter to invest in a space that will allow her to continue fostering young artists. She hopes seeing the signatures on the letter will show Fredericton that the arts community supports this project.