Chester N.S. theater destroyed by fire was known as community hub

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WATCH: Residents call Chester theatre fire a devastating loss – Jun 12, 2021

In the heart of Downtown Chester, N.S., you can find the Chester Playhouse, but the long-standing community building is now charred remains.

The building was originally built as a cinema in the 1930s and was later transformed into a theatre, something that many Chester residents say became a hub of the community.

“The thing about this little playhouse is that we had both professional touring companies come in but we had the community theatre and that’s what would give it the spark,” said Joan Cleather, who was once an active board member for the theater.

Read more: Crews respond to ‘heavy fire’ at historic theatre in Chester, N.S.

“We were so looking forward to next month — the opening. It’s just, I can’t tell you how disheartening it is, it really was such an anchor in the community.”

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The Playhouse had been undergoing an upgrade to make the facility more accessible.

The million-dollar renovations were in large part being paid for by an $800,000 grant from all three levels of government. Just as the renovations were nearly complete, a fire tore through the upper floor and roof of the Playhouse Friday afternoon.

The roof and upper floor of the Chester Playhouse were destroyed in a fire that broke out Friday June 11, 2021. Alicia Draus / Global News

Sixteen fire crews including the Chester Volunteer Fire Department attended to the fire, and while crews were able to get the flames under control within about an hour, the upper level and roof were completely destroyed. The full extent of the damage is still not known and the cause is under investigation.

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“It’s devastating at this point. We were about a month or so away from having completely finished [the renovations],” said Andrew Chandler, executive director of the Playhouse.
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“We’d been making plans to house live performances again this summer.”

While live indoor performances are now out of the question, Chandler says they still plan on hosting many of the outdoor events that were already in the works. What happens after that is still a question.

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“I’m very hopeful they can rebuild in that location, it’s so important to get people downtown into the core of the village,” said Sue LeBlanc, Executive Director of the nearby Chester Art Centre.

LeBlanc says the Playhouse is an integral part of the community. Her own children have taken part in the youth program over the years and her family has attended many shows there, something she says is common in the community and a way to bring people together.

“The Playhouse kind of starts from when your child is young and in the acting program to when you’re a senior and still going there so it kind of spans all generations and is that kind of hub.”

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Chandler says until they know the full extent of damage, it’s hard to plan what happens next but they are accepting donations on their website and are doing what they can to move forward.

“We’re certainly committed to bringing arts and culture into the community.”

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