A new partnership is bringing much needed arts programming and community space to the Leslieville community.
Crow’s Theatre, a long-running theatre company without a permanent home to call its own for the 30 years it has been in operation, will be moving into a new site on the ground floor of an upcoming 12-storey, 320-unit residential building at Carlaw Avenue and Dundas Street.
While the new permanent address is a boon to the company, which offers original alternative productions, both Crow’s and Streetcar Development, the developer building the residential site, said they are equally excited about the benefits it will bring to the community.
“We’re looking at doing community programming in the spring and fall and we’ll work with the community to see what they want,” said Monica Esteves, Crow’s Theatre managing director. “There are a lot of families in the neighbourhood, so we could have classes for things like mask-making or storytelling, we’re looking into hosting a March Break camp and starting a community choir with full performances.”
With the company taking up nearly the entire ground floor of the building, the theatre will also be ideal for hosting community events, with a 200-seat performance space on hand.
The company’s artistic director, Chris Abraham, noted as an east Toronto resident, finding a location in the Carlaw and Dundas area fit ideally with a personal ambition of his own.
“We’ve always wanted to bring more cultural infrastructure to the east end of the city,” he said. “Right now, there’s no place for theatre groups to be, to practice or to gather an audience out here.”
In addition to the performance space, the venue will have a 1,000-square-foot rehearsal hall, a large lobby and a commercial kitchen. Crow’s plans on becoming more than a theatre venue, with the company looking to host everything from clothing swaps to farmer’s markets to Ted Talk-style lectures.
“When we announced the new facility we immediately started fielding congratulations, but also knocks at the door from organizations and individuals asking if there was room at the table for them,” Abraham said.
Crow’s plans on consulting with the community to find ways to best serve its needs over the coming years as work on their new venue continues.
Having a permanent home will put an end to Crow’s nomadic ways. For years, they have rented space in which to rehearse and perform or created partnerships with companies-in-residence elsewhere.
The company has worked out a partnership with CanStage, which will give them space to perform for the time being, but partnerships of that kind tend to be temporary in nature.
“We put a lot of our resources, human and financial, into developing new work,” Esteves said. “Now we don’t have to spend time finding venues as well.”
She pointed out Crow’s will become the first theatre venue of its kind anywhere in the area, which seems strange given the growth there.
“There’s 1.3 million people in the area, so it’s hard to believe we’ll be the first,” she said.
Streetcar Development president Les Mallins said his company was looking for an arts company to fill in the ground floor of its site from the get-go and was introduced to Crow’s through Councillor Paula Fletcher.
Practically from the moment they began talking, the two sides said they felt they would be a good match.
“It was uncanny how much they were aligned with our vision,” Mallins said. “I liked their loyalty to the east end. It’s underserved in the arts and they saw the merits of introducing this type of theatre in the area.”
He added, as the area has been built up, there has been little in the way of public space to go along with the new units.
“What we found on Carlaw was that with all the development here...what was missing was community space where people could meet and events could take place,” he said.
Mallins is looking forward to seeing what sorts of events the space comes to host, whether it be art shows, craft shows, pop-up retail, community theatre or otherwise.
“The space is theirs and it’s up to them how they want to use it,” he said. “I think it will be great for the community.”
The development is expected to be completed in late 2014 or early 2015, with Crow’s hoping they will be in their new home in time to perform a piece commissioned for the 2015 Pan-Am Games.