Theatre Aquarius elevated the curtain 50 many years back

The age of Aquarius is 50.

Quite a few thought it would never get to that position. But Theatre Aquarius is celebrating its 50th birthday this yr with publish-COVID vitality from newcomers Mary Francis Moore as artistic director and Kelly Straughan as govt director at the helm.

The new period, starting in the slide, appears to be promising as does the premiere of the considerably expected “Maggie” next 7 days to conclude the latest year. But these days, I’m heading to emphasis on the early many years of how an upstart skilled theatre business managed to obtain a footing in Hamilton.

Sewers at work in the wardrobe department workroom at Theatre Aquarius. They are all working on the upcoming production "Maggie."
Sewers at work in the wardrobe division workroom at Theatre Aquarius. They are all doing work on the future output “Maggie.”Cathie Coward/The Hamilton Spectator

Theatre Aquarius began in early 1973 in rented headquarters in a previous bakery on Leeds Avenue, in the shadow of hefty business off Burlington Avenue. Its initial production, Peter Luke’s “Hadrian VII,” took place at Mohawk College’s auditorium in April of that 12 months. There ended up 18 years at Hamilton Put Studio Theatre and in 1991 the then-named du Maurier Ltd. Centre opened, giving Theatre Aquarius its own property. The centre later on grew to become recognized as the Dofasco Centre for the Arts and now is simply named Theatre Aquarius.

“It was constantly a struggle. Which is the way it is with theatre. It’s a wrestle,” states Stephen Newman, 71, who worked for Theatre Aquarius as manufacturing supervisor from 1973 to 2008.

Theatre Aquarius was part of a bullish wave of city building and arts and society enthusiasm by way of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Hamilton required to increase from its smokestack graphic and come out from the shadow of Toronto. Especially notable on the arts entrance, was Boris Brott’s promotional panache as conductor of the Hamilton Philharmonic that associated live performance performances in steel mills.

Stephen Newman was the first production manager of Theatre Aquarius working from 1973 to 2008.
Stephen Newman was the to start with output supervisor of Theatre Aquarius working from 1973 to 2008.Hamilton Community Library Neighborhood Background and Archive

Improve was in the air and on the floor as demolition crews controversially levelled extra than 43 acres of the downtown to make way for what was then called the Civic Sq. Challenge that bundled Lloyd D. Jackson Sq., the Hamilton Eaton Centre and Hamilton Spot.

It was that very last making that caught the eye of two younger theatre impresarios from Ottawa — Peter Mandia and Nanci Rossov.

Theatre Aquarius co-artistic directors Nanci Rossov and Peter Mandia in a 1973 photo taken shortly after they moved the theatre to Hamilton from Ottawa.
Theatre Aquarius co-creative directors Nanci Rossov and Peter Mandia in a 1973 photograph taken soon just after they moved the theatre to Hamilton from Ottawa.Hamilton Community Library Local History and Archives

“They preferred to get out of Ottawa. They had been there for a few a long time. They had been up from all kinds of different plan variations with Nationwide Arts Centre. They wanted to escape. So, they arrived to Hamilton to function out of Hamilton Location,” claims Newman, who joined the crew later that year.

He saw an advertisement for a generation supervisor task with Theatre Aquarius in early 1973 although functioning at the Kawartha Theatre in Lindsay. He arrived to Hamilton for an job interview but couldn’t come across the little avenue where by Aquarius was located. So, he left, figuring it was likely not intended to be.

Ken MacDonald set designer for the upcoming production of "Maggie" in the workshop at Theatre Aquarius.

But Mandia and Rossov achieved out. Greater directions were supplied, a second interview arranged, and Newman landed the position. He imagined it would past a time, but he stayed with Theatre Aquarius for 35 decades.

“It was a quite unique partnership,” he suggests. “But Peter had a way of swinging his moods dependent on the day.”

Theatre Aquarius artistic director Peter Mandia in 1977 photo.
Theatre Aquarius artistic director Peter Mandia in 1977 picture.Hamilton Community Library Community Background and Archives

But, he says, Mandia “was more of a shepherd than a director. He permitted actors to check out points. He would arrive at some form of compromise.”

Stew Brown, a very long-time theatre author for The Spectator, says, “When Peter and Nanci arrived in from Ottawa, I imagine originally there was a tiny skepticism. They ended up contemporary out of university, and they were being youthful.”

Though there was no experienced theatre business in the city, there have been nonetheless many great newbie plays for Hamiltonians to see via a vibrant neighborhood theatre scene, most notably with the Players’ Guild and Hamilton Theatre Inc. That custom carries on.

Peter Mandia and Martin Short in a promotional photo for the fundraising drive to build the Theatre Aquarius building on King William Street.
Peter Mandia and Martin Quick in a promotional image for the fundraising push to build the Theatre Aquarius building on King William Street.Hamilton Community Library Local Background and Archives

“I believe the novice theatres resented anyone stealing their thunder. But they arrived all-around fairly speedily,” suggests Brown who retired from The Spec in 2002.

But it soon became crystal clear to Mandia and Newman that the Hamilton Area Studio Theatre was unsuitable. It did not have plenty of seats. They did not have the production room they needed. Arranging programming was tough with other occasions getting put in the facility.

And as Newman states, “with theatre corporations, you type of want your own space.”

They seemed at the Customs Property, the Tivoli Theatre and the former Hamilton Community Library in close proximity to City Corridor, among other areas. They even viewed as moving to Oakville, Newman states. Very little clicked right up until they established eyes on a city-owned parking large amount at King William and Ferguson.

Instead than adapting an aged developing, why not build a new 1?

A Theatre Aquarius promotional pamphlet circa 1990.

It’s possible the Town would give the land to Theatre Aquarius. The Town claimed yes.

It’s possible the federal and provincial governments would chip in. They did.

And perhaps the rest could be lifted by fundraising. Patrons came by.

In the conclusion the selling price tag arrived in at considerably less than $12 million with a building created by Peter Smith of Lett Smith Architects. In the drop of 1991, Theatre Aquarius moved into its shiny new household built by Peter Smith. It was comprehensive with a 700-seat auditorium, a 125-seat studio theatre together with hundreds of generation amenities out back again.

Sonia Nardi Lewis runs the wardrobe department at Theatre Aquarius. She is seen here in one of the main costume room, which holds everything from hats and shoes, and accessories to jackets, dresses pants and sweaters.

“Today, you couldn’t acquire a fuel station for what that constructing value,” states Newman.

But three many years just after the opening — prolonged soon after Rossov experienced moved to California to operate in film — tragedy struck.

Newman uncovered Mandia dead in his apartment on Bay Street South. He was 51 and had been recuperating from a coronary heart assault a few weeks right before.

Scenic artist Dawn Weaver works painting scenery in the workshop at Theatre Aquarius for the upcoming production of "Maggie."

“When Peter died, it was a knockout for me. I was devastated,” mentioned Newman.

It led to a period of uncertainty for the theatre, and big fiscal problems. But inevitably beneath creative director Max Reimer — who held the submit from 1996 to 2008 — the theatre dug out of its financial debt and arrived at a position that it averaged extra than 100,000 visitors for every 12 months. Reimer was followed by Ron Ulrich from 2008 to 2021. Current creative director Moore began in the summertime of 2021.

For more facts about Theatre Aquarius go to theatreaquarius.org

Luigi Borghesan production manager at Theatre Aquarius in the catwalk above the main stage at the theatre.

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