'Masterpiece' theatre doubles annual ticket sales and enlivens local historic district
"Since the Young Centre for the Performing Arts' official opening in January 2006, Soulpepper Theatre has had the facilities to operate its production season year-round, and thus has more than quadrupled the amount of performances they can offer each year.
"With this substantial increase, Soulpepper has become a vital component of Toronto's performance art community as well as significantly contributing to the cultural destination of the Distillery Historic District. In one night, a Soulpepper production can bring in anything from 500+ people into the Distillery Historic District, adding flourish to the neighbourhood's vibrant and developing community.
"The Young Centre is also home to the George Brown College theatre programme and provides those students with the same customizable, state-of-the-art studio spaces as the resident artists who work in the building. The architecture encloses the empty space between two original Tank Houses, creating an open venue lobby accessible to all users of the Young Centre. The community that the Young Centre creates provides an excellent opportunity for students to build relationships with resident professionals," Client Statement, September 2, 2011.
The two clients for this project, the Soulpepper Theatre Company and the George Brown College Theatre School, were formerly operating in inadequate and disconnected facilities. They became partners to consolidate and improve their performance, rehearsal, teaching and administrative facilities. To do this they developed a shared vision to create a new paradigm for teaching and live performance.
Located within the 19th-century Gooderham & Worts Distillery District, a former industrial site at the eastern edge of downtown Toronto that was transformed into a new arts precinct, the project combines two historic brick tank houses, simple warehouse structures, with a new enclosed space between. The architectural strategy casts the historic fabric as a unique backdrop to create a nexus for drama and performance in the city.
- In the first year since the building's opening (2006), the Soulpepper Theatre Company increased its number of productions by 80% and its total performances by 116%. This has resulted in a dramatic overall attendance increase of 103%
- Soulpepper's annual budget doubled from 2005 to 2006, from $3 million to $6 million
- Soulpepper's annual ticket sales doubled from 34,000 to 71,375 tickets in the first year
- George Brown College's Key Performance Indicators scores improved dramatically in the year after the Young Centre's opening, and the Facilities Satisfaction scores increased by 70%
"The Young Centre is the vital spark that every city desires," says The Globe and Mail.
"A masterpiece of comfort, flexibility and beauty," says the Toronto Star.
The diverse programme of 45,565 sq ft maximizes flexibility for rehearsal, teaching and performance, with support spaces, workshop facilities, lobby and ticketing facilities, classrooms and administrative and production spaces for both organizations.
The lobby and selected teaching spaces are designed to be easily converted into performance venues. The central lobby space includes a café, box office, theatre and bookstore. There are four formal performance venues including a 400-seat flexible courtyard theatre, a 220-seat flexible format theatre, a 90-seat 'cabaret' theatre space and a 125-seat 'Tankhouse' theatre. Each theatre has fiber-optic capability to provide broadcast quality signals for television networks.
The Soulpepper Theatre Company had a strong reputation before the new building project was initiated, but they were limited to only staging performances during the summer season, and this restricted the amount of revenue they could bring in through ticket sales and subscriptions.
In their first year in the new building, their ticket sales doubled - from 34,000 to 71,375 tickets. The company now mounts a year-round season and earned $6 million in revenue in 2006, up from $3 million in 2005.
The move to a dedicated facility means that Soulpepper now has direct access to its own customer database, which has already allowed for significant gains in direct marketing efficiency and customer analysis, and similar efficiencies on the fundraising side.
Contributed revenue increased by 38% in the first year. This is partly a result of patrons' impressions of the new building – research conducted by Soulpepper this past summer revealed that the total positive response to the new building and theatres was 97%, with 76% answering 'very positive'.
Since opening in January 2006, the Young Centre has raised the district's profile as a centre for artistic life in the city and given momentum to the growing vitality of the Distillery District. The influx of theatre-goers has stimulated the economy and resulted in a significant increase in business for existing services, as well as attracted additional tenants such as art galleries, dining and specialty retail.
The project emphasizes a 'raw warm industrial' aesthetic to conserve and respect the historic fabric of the existing buildings and the character of the 19th-century context of the Gooderham & Worts site. Brick facades are left exposed, original windows are retained, and the existing cobblestone pavements are conserved in their original states.
New interior finishes are utilitarian, limited to concrete floors and painted walls for an economy of means and an edgy tilt to reflect the values of the new institution. Ceilings are exposed to meet both cost and functional requirements, allowing the complex canopy of lighting systems to be visible throughout the scheme.
For students of George Brown College's Theatre School, this new building has had a tremendous impact on their experience as theatre students. For the first time, the students have the opportunity to learn in classrooms and studios built for their needs, and on stages in theatres with various configurations and seating capacities.
They have the opportunity to mingle with professional actors in spaces that promote interaction, to sit in on Soulpepper rehearsals and to attend Soulpepper performances. The benefits have arisen both as a result of this unique partnership and as a natural result of sharing a space that provides exceptional workspaces, and that promotes collaboration and a high degree of user satisfaction.
The building has had a significant impact on how Soulpepper operates because now all activities take place under one roof, whereas previously the admin office, rehearsals, training and workshops, set design, costumes and performances were all at different locations.
This offers a significant time saving, allowing the company to integrate its activities as the actors perform, train and mentor in one facility. The close proximity of the different functions and the design of the building, with its multipurpose spaces and large gathering areas, has also contributed to an improved culture of collaboration for both the principal tenants and their staff/users.
The flexibility of the theatre spaces, including the main theatre, the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, is a huge artistic advantage to Soulpepper: in 2006 the company performed in the Baillie in a proscenium-configuration with an almost bare set (as originally intended by the playwright) for the inaugural production, Our Town; later in a thrust-configuration for Shakespeare's King Lear (the only thrust in Toronto); and finally in the round for the final two season productions: The Caretaker and A Christmas Carol.
This ability to adapt the space to the artistic needs of each and all productions gives scope to the vision of each production's director.