Tom Patterson Theatre rebuild project gets $10M donation

The Stratford Festival’s plan to rebuild the Tom Patterson Theatre has taken a big step toward reality – even though it technically hasn’t been approved.

A $10-million gift to the project from philanthropist Ophelia Lazaridis was announced on Monday.

That donation brings the total raised to date to $70 million. The federal and provincial governments have committed $20 million apiece to the project, while festival board chair Dan Bernstein and his wife Claire Foerster have pledged $10 million. Another $10 million has been raised through smaller pledges.

Festival organizers say the $70 million is enough for the physical demolition and reconstruction of the theatre itself. Another $30 million is being sought to provide unique, new-to-Stratford programming.

“We want support in order to support the programming that happens in this building – the work with the young people, the work with the artists that’s critically important to the future,” artistic director Antoni Cimolino said in an interview.

“It’s not just a new building – it’s an entirely new way of engaging with the arts.”

Plans call for the rebuilt theatre to include a larger capacity than the current venue, as well as significantly expanded production facilities, improved acoustics and a new terraced garden outside.

“People don’t simply want to sit back and attend. They want to take part; they want to understand; they want to contribute – and this facility will help them do that,” Cimolino said.

While the festival is moving ahead with plans for the rebuild – they’re expecting site work to start in February – it still requires a sign-off from the city.

The city currently owns the land, and has yet to decide whether they will sell it to the festival.

In addition to a theatre, the space currently houses the Kiwanis Community Centre seniors’ complex. If the land is sold and the new theatre is built, seniors’ programming would end up moving to another facility elsewhere in Stratford.

Seniors who use the Kiwanis Community Centre have spoken out against that possibility, saying they feel they’ve been given short shrift in the discussions.

“I think there needs to be a balance between business interests, between cultural interests and between the citizens themselves,” said Margaret Thompson, who was using the centre on Monday.

“The impression I get is that the decision was made long before the public consultation started. I think it was a fait accompli.”

It is believed that the Stratford Festival is directly or indirectly responsible for 3,000 jobs in the city.

With reporting by Stu Gooden

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