Theatre has long been a way for people to express themselves and showcase their artistic flair. It’s a unique form of entertainment, and for many in Lethbridge, and the bright lights of the stage have been calling for some time.
“Theatre and performing arts has been a part of our history right from the very founding of the town back in 1885,” said Dawn Leite, an executive assistant at the Allied Arts Council. “That was our very first theatre, but it wasn’t a purpose-built theatre. It was a found space; it was a saloon.”
Starting at the Galt Museum, Leite is showcasing the city’s theatrical history in a walking tour on Thursday — and some might leave surprised.
“We had about 30 theatres before 1966,” Leite said. “The Yates Memorial Centre was built in ’66. That was our first civic theatre that was built in Lethbridge and all of those theatres previously were privately-owned.”
Throughout Lethbridge’s history, the busiest hub of performances were here on 5th Street South, called ‘Theatre Row’, with many of the buildings serving as a dual threat.”
“That’s one of the interesting aspects of the theatres in Lethbridge,” said Aimee Benoit, curator at Galt Museums and Archives. “A lot of the venues doubled as both movie houses and live theatre performance places, so the Capital was a good example. They had quite a large stage and it was built to accommodate live performances as well.”
Sharon Peat, New West Theatre’s artistic director, has seen the number of theatre companies in the city grow and the kinds of shows transformed. But as the art form evolves, its effect remains the same.
“When you take a really good story and touch an audience and the audience relates to it, it’s an experience like no other, and that’s what makes live theatre so special,” Peat said.
The growth of arts in the community has led to over-booking of the Yates Memorial Theatre. In light of the need for more space, the City of Lethbridge has set aside $375,000 for a study surrounding the potential construction of a new performing arts centre.