Coronavirus: London’s Grand Theatre delays $8M renos, cancels High School Project

London's Grand Theatre as seen in September 2019. Sawyer Bogdan/980 CFPL

London’s Grand Theatre announced Monday it will delay a planned $8 million spring renovation of its lobby spaces and cancel this year’s planned High School Project production as a result of operational disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus.

The news comes the same day Ontario announced it would extend its state of emergency declaration by another two weeks as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province continues to rise.

The state of emergency, announced last Tuesday, forced the closure of all businesses and workplaces in Ontario not deemed essential, including theatres.

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The Grand’s extensive renovations, which were set to begin in early May following the closing of the theatre’s 2019/20 season, will now be postponed a year until the spring of 2021, theatre officials said, adding a majority of theatre staff are on emergency leave, while others work from home.

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In a statement, the Grand’s executive director, Deb Harvey, said they were grateful for the understanding and flexibility of their partners for the delay in the renovations, which involves local and federal governments, private funders, and support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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The cancellation of this year’s High School Project production comes just three weeks after officials announced it as part of the upcoming 2020/21 season.

Local high schoolers were set to trace the life story of legendary showman P. T. Barnum in a musical that was set to be performed under a big top tent at this year’s Western Fair.

On Monday, Dennis Garnhum, the Grand’s artistic director, said its cancellation would be a “huge disappointment” for participating students who have already had their school years upended by COVID-19 and teacher strikes.

“The High School Project is a program that is embraced by so many in the community, not the least of whom is our staff who are devastated by this news,” Garhnum said.

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With the planned renovation set to begin in the spring of 2021, Garnhum says that means the High School Project production in the fall of 2021 will still need to take place at an off-site location.

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“We are so grateful that Western Fair has agreed to keep Barnum in the big top in its plans for September of 2021,” Garnhum said. “We are in the process of reviewing the full 2020/21 season and hope to make an announcement in the coming weeks.”

Theatregoers who had purchased tickets for the production as part of their season packages will be able to either donate the value of their tickets back to the Grand, take a credit, or request a full refund.

The annual Grand Gala to raise funds to support youth programming, like the High School Project, has also been cancelled, theatre officials said. This year’s special guest of honour was slated to be actor Mark Uhre.

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