Hidden theatre dates back to 1914
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.”