Happy birthday, Savoy

Glace Bay show­place is 90 years old and still go­ing strong

Cape Breton Post - - News - Lila Car­son Getting to Know the Bay

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 lilacar­son@hot­mail.com.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Back in Glace Bay’s hey­day, this is what the Savoy Theatre once looked like as it graced Com­mer­cial Street.

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