Hid­den theatre dates back to 1914

Stanstead Journal - - FORUM -

a doc­u­men­tary and he be­gan cre­at­ing a pro­mo­tional se­ries of short film clips, or vi­gnettes, about Stanstead in Fe­bru­ary. Called “Stanstead en ac­tion”, they can be viewed on the town’s web­site and on YouTube.

But Da­mon’s most am­bi­tious pro­ject is an im­pres­sive one: no less than the restora­tion and trans­for­ma­tion of an old theatre, the skele­ton of which has been hid­den deep in­side a build­ing in the Rock Is­land sec­tor of town since the 1970’s.

“This theatre first opened in 1914. It was Colonel Ho­race Haskell’s con­cept and Bert C. Drew was the con­trac­tor who built it,” ex­plained Da­mon. “ It suf­fered three fires, the last one was in 1948; it was re­built af­ter that one.” The theatre was orig­i­nally used for live theatre and movies, then fi­nally only movies. “A lack of busi­ness closed it,” Da­mon said. The lobby of the cin­ema was then trans­formed into a store front; Bou­tique Fleurs and Pas­sion oc­cu­pied it for many years.

It was the dis­cov­ery of this hid­den and long ne­glected theatre, even in its state of dis­re­pair, which first mo­ti­vated Gabriel Safdie, now the owner of sev­eral build­ings in the down­town of the Rock Is­land sec­tor, to be­gin re­vi­tal­iz­ing Rock Is­land. “It’s what got me in­ter­ested in the Rock Is­land Pro­ject be­cause my ori­en­ta­tion is in the arts. Later I started look­ing at other things like the art gallery and things started com­ing to­gether. I first wanted to set the scene around it and now the restor­ing of the cin­ema is the last thing,” he com­mented.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Safdie, Da­mon “evolved into the po­si­tion” of be­ing in charge of the theatre pro­ject be­cause “he shares the same vi­sion” for the theatre. “In a small com­mu­nity like this, a theatre must be a multi-pur­pose venue. Dig­i­tal­ized cin­ema, live per­for­mance ca­pa­bil­i­ties and, be­yond that, al­low it to func­tion as a con­fer­ence cen­tre, din­ner theatre, and have web-stream­ing. It’s just as im­por­tant to func­tion for tourists as for the lo­cal com­mu­nity. We could work in con­junc­tion with the Haskell on film and mu­sic fes­ti­vals,” ex­plained Da­mon. “We’d plan on both English and French films and shows on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and, when­ever pos­si­ble, bilin­gual shows. What’s im­por­tant for this pro­ject is how strong the French and English com­mu­ni­ties here are. We want to cater to them both; they’re very in­ter­twined.”

Luck­ily Da­mon has some much-needed help, in the form of Shaz­am­fest or­ga­nizer Ziv Przy­tyk, to try and get this mil­lion dol­lar pro­ject on its feet. “We’re in­volved in each other’s projects so we ap­proached Gabriel and he let us run with the pro­ject,” com­mented Mr. Cox. Other peo­ple from the lo­cal com­mu­nity are also show­ing their sup­port for the po­ten­tial, ‘new age’ theatre. “The Da­mon Cox hopes to get this Stanstead Theatre, hid­den since the 1970’s, re­built by 2013. pres­i­dent of the Cul­tural Cen­tre, Michele Richard, is on our Ad­vi­sory Board and so is Mike Goudreau. He’s very com­mu­nity-fo­cussed and has fan­tas­tic ideas. We’re look­ing for more peo­ple to be on the Board – artists, in­vest­ment pro­fes­sion­als. I have no prob­lem ini­ti­at­ing things when I know I have good peo­ple around me like Michele Richard and Mike Goudreau who con­trib­ute and get things done. Those are the kind of peo­ple we’re look­ing for.”

Al­though fund­ing has not yet been found for the roughly $1.5 mil­lion pro­ject, an ex­cel­lent name has been. “We de­cided on Theatre sans Fron­tieres be­cause it has two mean­ings: theatre with­out borders and theatre with­out lim­its!”

If it isn’t al­ready ob­vi­ous, Mr. Cox has em­braced his new com­mu­nity. “I love it here. I’ve al­ways lived in small towns so I’m com­fort­able. My daugh­ter goes to a fan­tas­tic school, in French, and now she’s per­fectly bilin­gual. We couldn’t have done that in On­tario. Here you can see a sense of com­mu­nity grow­ing, a new sense of mo­ti­va­tion in town; I re­ally no­ticed it with Hock­eyville. It takes that out­side set of eyes to some­times see the po­ten­tial. And there’s a great foun­da­tion al­ready here.”

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