Bus Stop Theatre celebrates wins ahead of HRM funding decision

The co-operative is looking to buy their building on Gottingen Street

This story contains a correction

An annual fundraiser at Halifax’s Bus Stop Theatre marks the end of a big year in a campaign to raise $1.2 million to buy their building, but the push isn’t over yet.

The Bus Stop Theatre Co-operative hosted its 3rd annual Great Big Bus Stop Basket Auction Sunday night. The crowd bid on gift baskets prepared by members of the co-operative, local businesses and organizations, raising $4,000 — double their goal for the evening.

A crowd gathers Sunday at the Bus Stop Theatre to celebrate a successful year and offer support for the year to come.   Amy Brierley

While these funds will go toward theatre operations, Sébastien Labelle, executive director of the co-operative, says it’s this kind of community support that continues to drive the campaign to buy the building before July, when the theatre’s lease ends.

“It’s not just a pipe dream or a case of ‘if we build it, they will come,’” says Labelle. “People are knocking at our door, looking for space to perform, to hold events, and there’s really too few of these kinds of spaces in the city.”

Sébastien Labelle (centre) stands with Chelsea Dickie, chair of the Bus Stop Theatre Co-operative board (left), and Lara Lewis, board vice-chair (right).   Amy Brierley

Last spring, Halifax regional council voted 13-1 to contribute $125,000 each year for two years for the co-operative to buy, renovate and later expand the theatre at 2203 Gottingen St., pending review of additional documentation.

In January, city staff is set to recommend to council whether to move forward with the funding.

Labelle says that despite the positive reception so far, the future of the theatre is still not guaranteed. The co-operative will be requesting $355,000 from the federal department of Canadian Heritage and $355,000 from Nova Scotia Communities, Culture and Heritage — funding that is contingent on the city’s commitment.

A community’s theatre

Stoo Metz, a full-time professional photographer, is a big supporter of the Bus Stop.

“If we lose the Bus Stop Theatre, what do we do then?” says Metz, who takes photos of independent theatre productions at the Bus Stop and charges only what the companies can afford.

“Everybody here tonight has that in the back of their head. We’ve all benefited from this place in some way, it’s extremely vital that we all do our part to make it so that it still exists for generations to come.”

Stoo Metz takes photos of the 3rd Annual Great Big Bus Stop Basket Auction Sunday evening.   Amy Brierley

The Bus Stop has been operating since 2003. It is the “only independently operated affordable, accessible, professionally equipped black-box space in Halifax,” as stated on the theatre’s website. It rents to independent theatre companies and performers and produces its own shows and workshops.

This year, the number of events at the theatre increased by more than 50 per cent, with 150 separate events hosted in the space, compared to 98 events in 2018. Labelle says they had to decline or defer 226 rental days this year because of a lack of space.

April Hubbard has been performing in and attending shows at the theatre since it opened. She says numbers like these show the momentum behind the Bus Stop is strong and growing.

“A lot of people in the community want to come together and support them,” says Hubbard. “We just really need to put that push on and make sure that the officials see that it’s important to our community and see that we really need it here.”

April Hubbard bids on some of the baskets offered by local companies, organizations and businesses.   Amy Brierley

Hubbard has worked with the Halifax Fringe Festival for 16 years. She says theatre spaces that are both independent and accessible are critical, but quickly disappearing.

“As a wheelchair user, that’s really important for me, to be able to have a space where I can have events, come together with my community and talk about those things that are important to us,” says Hubbard. “That doesn’t really exist anywhere else in Halifax.”

When it comes to 2020, Labelle is hopeful. On Monday, he found out about a $25,000 donation to the theatre’s capital campaign.

He says he’s most looking forward to “being able to breathe again.”

“So much of our energy is directed towards saving the space,” says Labelle, “but once we’ve crossed that, all that energy can now be directed to having it flourish and that’s what I’m really excited about.”

Correction: Dec. 3, 2019: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the 226 rental days that were declined or deferred.

Amy Brierley

Amy Brierley

Amy is a journalism student at the University of King's College. She calls Antigonish N.S.--and more recently, Halifax-- home. She cares a lot about communities and the things that make them fair, just and thriving for everyone.

Have a story idea? Let us know

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *