Happy birthday, Savoy
Glace Bay showplace is 90 years old and still going strong
The Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay is celebrating its 90th birthday this year, an event worth celebrating.
The Savoy was built in 1927 and owned by John Connors. Its first disaster came that winter when a fire started at the CIBC and burnt through and around the corner up to St. Mary’s Church. Its second fire disaster in 1991 shut it down for two years.
Pam Leader spoke recently about the importance of the Savoy as a ‘Glace Bay cornerstone’ and as the biggest entertainment centre on the Island after Centre 200, seating about 760 people. Sometimes this can be a drawback, with smaller productions choosing a smaller location to avoid empty seats. So many local people started their careers here and then moved on to further theatre work elsewhere.
Dave Bailey, house technician for more than 40 years, briefly summarized starting with projectors for big galas by the Rotary Club, up to today’s computerized technical gear. The stage has an orchestra pit and dressing rooms under the stage just like on Broadway. It has been touted as “the finest theatre of its kind East of Montreal,” with wonderful acoustics and it’s been said, “there’s not a bad seat in the house.”
The Town of Glace Bay purchased the Savoy in 1972. After two years of renovations, it opened in 1974 with the Broadway production, “The King and I.” It ran for 10 days and had the biggest box office receipts of any Nova Scotia theatre. How important was this event at the time? On opening night, Ann Terry, a popular media person then, announced which people were arriving in limos and wearing gowns, just like it was the Oscars in Hollywood. Ana Almeida from CTV Halifax recently broadcast live from the theatre.
The up and coming Highland Arts Theatre, in Sydney and the Savoy have a good working relationship. They’ve collaborated on several “Confidential Musicals.” With flexible schedules, some of the actors can perform at both venues. If we want to keep good theatre we have to be prepared to attend performances and pay for it. Ticket prices are based on more than just the paid actors for each performance. A recent kid’s show, “Bubble Guppies” may seem expensive at $30 a ticket inclusive, but many other theatres charged $40 and up.
There’s an old adage, “you get what you pay for” and sometimes we really have to take this to heart and realize if we don’t pay the price, we may not have this kind of quality for long. We’ve seen The Sound of Music, Les Miserables, Peter Gillis, and Summertime Revue to name only a few. You can look forward to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in October.
Despite ticket price income, CBRM and provincial funding, a skeleton staff, and many enthusiastic volunteers, the Savoy still has to fund-raise $150,000 yearly to pay the bills. When you consider keeping their clientele comfortable, the heating bill alone for January was $10,000. That’s a real eye-opener. And how many other venues do you know that have a waiting list of people who want to volunteer there? Nice perk, getting to see the wonderful shows.
For the Savoy’s 90th anniversary, their special innovative fundraiser is a “90 for 90” donation (only a dollar for each year of its existence). The bonus being discovered with this activity has been the response, not only with dollars, but with memories, not to mention, keeping Glace Bay on the map. People are including letters, sharing their memories and telling what having the Savoy has meant to them.
A friend remembers going there as a child and despite the smoke smell in the air, perfume and aftershave proved that people felt they were going somewhere special and got dressed to the nines. Considering it started out on the second floor of an office building, it has risen from the ashes like a phoenix several times to become the classic, prestigious theatre that we all know and love today.
Many famous people have performed at the Savoy, including Sammy Davis Jr. in 1937 at the age of 12. Rita MacNeil, The Men of the Deeps, The Rankins, Barra MacNeils, Leonard Cohen, Kitty Wells and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and recently Abba Mania and Elvis Presley impersonators have all graced the stage of the Savoy. There were even bleachers set up inside with 1,000 people for boxing matches held there until 1983. Who can forget the annual Remembrance Day services? B.C. band, Trouper, performed at the Savoy during a power outage and in his book, their lead singer shared how playing at the Savoy was one of his favorite performing experiences.
They sang, “We’re Here for a Good Time, not a Long Time” but Pam Leader thinks it can be both when she says, “we’re going to be here for 100 years.”
I know I will be at the Summertime Revue in early August. Hope to see you there, if it’s not another sold-out crowd.
Lila Carson used to be an elementary teacher who returned home to Cape Breton. She took a course on the history of Cape Breton at Cape Breton University and developed an interest in learning about where she lived. She now wants to share this knowledge with others. If you have any comments or ideas you would like to see in future columns, email her at email@example.com.
Back in Glace Bay’s heyday, this is what the Savoy Theatre once looked like as it graced Commercial Street.