When you ask people about the Reid Theatre, you get a variety of answers. Some have fond memories spanning decades, from the early days of the theatre and on into the new millennium. However, when you ask about the Reid these days, it’s a different story. A few students miss it, but many have never even had a chance to step inside.
The theatre has a long history at MUN since it was built in 1961. From film screenings to CODCO performances, to drama students cutting their teeth, the Reid has a storied heritage in the communal mind. Originally closed due to health and safety concerns of asbestos, the situation has seemed to linger now for quite some time leaving people to wonder- what will become of it?
From July 22 to 23, the committee overseeing the Reid’s fate held two public consultations to gain an idea about what people want to see when it reopens. Both meetings drew anywhere between twenty to thirty or more people, including members of the public, media, staff, and students, all of whom certainly came prepared to express themselves and say their fill.
Although there was a tense moment during the campus meeting when a member of the public expressed beliefs that Grenfell’s theatre program in Corner Brook “is not worth the paper it’s printed on”, most of the debate throughout each of the consultations were civil.
One of the biggest and most popular points raised throughout both meetings was that whatever is eventually done in terms of renovations to the Reid should lend itself to the theatre’s original function, only updated to modern standards. Many alumni and professors expressed their hopes to see the Memorial Film Society do screenings there again; the point was brought up that there is nowhere at all in St. John’s for people to show non-mainstream films. Committee members assured their plan is to update the Reid with all the technology required for modern formats, and all intentions to include activities such as film screenings for students and outside groups.
The beauty of the theatre was also an issue of high importance. A former employee from D.F Cook Recital Hall at MUN shared her horror remembering when food and drink were first allowed into the space. She recounted how it kept her from returning to work there; she told the committee they must make certain the Reid is preserved as a true theatre. If the frequency of student traffic is to be high, rules of maintenance ought to be enforced strictly.
Several people involved in the St. John’s theatre community attended the meetings, and were vocal in emphasizing their hopes that in reopening the Reid, groups outside the university would be given fair opportunity to use the facilities. While people did agree the Reid should try and cater to the local theatre community, it was very clear from the reaction of university staff and students, including representatives of the student union, there was a desire to have the theatre serve the university first and foremost. Professors and students alike were adamant that because the Reid Theatre is a physical part of the university it should be viewed as such. Though the committee expressed their wishes to make scheduling a priority, and in doing so giving the local theatre community a fair shake at using the facility, the second meeting overwhelmingly leaned in favour of making sure the Reid met the needs of students above all else. They also conveyed the fact that people need to manage their expectations, and be realistic about the multipurpose value of the facility.
A central reason the committee stresses their hopes to make students the number one priority in revamping the Reid Theatre is because they hope it will help certain programs grow, particularly the Performance and Communications diploma. MUN could be a stepping stone, helping its students gain top-notch experience before moving onto graduate programs elsewhere.
Others strongly believe there needs to be consideration for the community because it will help the city overall in bringing together the next crop of theatre professionals, who as of right now appear to be scattered amongst a number of groups, as opposed to earlier, more unified years.
One member of the dance community also spoke up, urging the committee not to focus solely on theatre and to remember the dancers. An architect present who is working with the university on the Reid assured that all groups would be considered when concerning the structural integrity of the stage, as most theatre stages are built with all types of performance in mind.
Above all, whether young or old, people who have been lucky enough to experience the Reid Theatre seem to hold it high in reverence, and even higher their hopes that it will return to glory. It doesn’t take an expert to see and feel the presence the Reid has in St. John’s. Just by listening to people talk of its glory days in the 1970s and 1980s, it is obvious the theatre is still lashed together by emotional ties stretching far out into the theatre community.
Those who were not able to attend the public consultations should visit www.mun.ca/reidtheatre where they have until August 15th to fill out a survey, including a place to share any fond memories of the Reid, and give their two cents to the committee. I urge everyone to do so; the Reid Theatre has great prospects of being a unifying centre for the arts community here in St. John’s and the people have the power to help realize its potential.