Theatre school looks for new home

Ryerson Theatre School students will be moved out of their current building by the end of 2015, according to Gerd Hauck, dean of the faculty of communication and design.

The school is moving locations because the building has been worn down over the years.

“Any old building that is used very heavily will decay over time. The theatre school is no exception,” Hauck wrote in an e-mail.

“Challenges in the building at 44 Gerrard St. have included leaks, floods, inconsistent temperature, lack of wheelchair access and so forth.”

Originally constructed in 1887, the building that currently houses the theatre school was once the Ontario College of Pharmacy until 1963. It’s since been renovated to house theatre students, complete with dance studios and a small theatre.

“The university has been aware for many years of the challenges regarding the building in which the Theatre school is housed,” Hauck wrote. He says that after looking at all of the options, the school is ready to start working on a two-phase solution.

“In the short to medium term, the Ryerson theatre school will be moved from its present location to a combination of spaces on and around campus,” he wrote.

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy says he hopes the students relocation will take place within the next year.

Once students are moved out of the current building, the school will shift its focus to a permanent solution. Hauck wrote that there should be a new, permanent home for the school within the next five years.

According to Levy, all buildings on campus are two-thirds funded by the government and one-third funded by the university. However, the government has yet to step in and assist with payment for a new building for the theatre school.
“We have to find it all on our own,” he says.

Alex Gilbert, head of the wardrobe department, says that finding a place for the school in the short term will be tricky, partly because of the community aspect of the theatre programs.

“Here, you have production students in the same place as dance and theatre students. It’s a space to collaborate.” If classes are scattered, she says they’ll lose some of the interdisciplinary opportunities for students to collaborate.

Gilbert says that while most of the flooding has been resolved, there’s still some residual damage from the leaks and a previous termite infestation. “This is exactly what you see wherever there’s termites,” she says as she leans over and points to a door frame that has been gnawed away.

Hauck noted that “it is important to know that in spite of some challenges, inspectors have confirmed that the building is completely safe to use.”

However, damages are not the only reason the school is looking for a new home — the program has outgrown the building. There are currently more than 400 students enrolled in the theatre school, but there are only 10 bathrooms for students and one for staff.

Ultimately, the school needs more space and storage. “Wherever there’s a counter, it’s being used,” Gilbert says, “you’ll see me tucking things everywhere I can. And the hallways are being used as storage too.”

The lack of wheelchair accessibility is also a barrier to some students. There are no elevators in the three-storey building. Gilbert says, “There’s no way you’re fitting a wheelchair through those narrow (front) doors.” Not to mention the lack of automatic door control buttons. “There have been a couple students with disabilities in the past, and it’s always been a struggle,” Gilbert says.

Gilbert has been with the school a long time. She isn’t just faculty; she’s a class of 2000 alumna. “There were issues even back then when I was a student,” she says.

Despite the theatre school’s uncertain future, second-year performance production student Christopher Brackett is relieved. “At a certain point, it’s like, ‘Get me out of here,’” he says. “I’m disappointed that I’ll be gone before the new building opens.”

Gilbert says she’s heard a mix of reactions from students, although most are excited. “For some of the students, there’s nostalgia. The alumni too, they’re like, ‘I spent four years of my life here.’ But we really just want a functional building.”

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