Arts and Culture
Bus Stop Theatre raising funds to purchase building
The only independent theatre space in Halifax faces eviction
January 26, 2019, 4:00 pm ASTLast Updated: January 28, 2019, 3:45 pm
The Bus Stop Theatre Co-op has launched a plan to fund the purchase of its building to avoid eviction at the end of the year.
Sébastien Labelle, Bus Stop’s executive director, said it’s the only option to ensure the performance venue’s future.
The theatre located at 2203 Gottingen St. has been open for over 15 years, functioning for the last four as a non-profit co-operative. The building’s owner can no longer afford the space’s upkeep and has decided to sell in December.
The owner has given The Bus Stop first choice to purchase the building, but it will cost the co-op “many hundreds of thousands” of dollars, said Labelle.
Denise MacDonell, a realtor with Red Door Realty, said the area north of the Halifax Common and south of North Street is the “number one spot for commercial and residential real estate right now.”
Labelle hopes to get both public and private donations to purchase the building. He has approached all levels of government looking for support.
North-end MLA NDP Lisa Roberts said The Bus Stop is a vital community space.
“Absolutely I want to be a champion for (The Bus Stop),” said Roberts. “I don’t think we can tolerate a loss of that space … as the north-end community, but also as Halifax and Nova Scotia where these industries are important.”
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said he’s been in talks with The Bus Stop team. He is “looking forward to working with them, so they can continue to serve our artists and our community.”
The plan is to not only purchase the building, but raise funds to build another theatre and rehearsal space in the rear parking lot.
“We would be responding not only to the immediate crisis of The Bus Stop, but the larger longstanding crisis in the performing arts community where there’s basically no space available,” said Labelle.
Need for more space
In a span of four months, Labelle had to turn away 60 days of rentals because The Bus Stop was fully booked.
“Over that past ten years, it’s been a constant struggle to find spaces that are reliable and consistent and affordable,” said Colleen MacIsaac, artistic producer of The Villain’s Theatre and head of development at The Bus Stop.
MacIsaac said this is the fewest number of performance and rehearsal spaces Halifax has had since she’s lived here. Last year, independent theatres KAZAN CO-OP’s The Waiting Room and Theatre Nova Scotia’s Living Room both closed.
Losing The Living Room was a difficult blow to Garry Williams, artistic director of DaPoPo Theatre. He used to run the annual DaPoPo Live-In festival out of the space.
“Independent theatre (has a) huge challenge to find affordable and suitable space,” said Williams. “What tends to happen is creative impulse dies. Creative impulse has to go into finding or sustaining or paying for space.”
Williams said theatre artists are leaving Halifax to find better opportunities elsewhere.
Artists have always been scrappy, but now independent arts companies have to rehearse in Sobeys community rooms, said Richie Wilcox artistic director for HEIST performance company.
HEIST’s self-described “queerly playful performances” have found a welcoming space for LGBTQ+ artists in The Bus Stop. Wilcox said the number of queer-friendly spaces has also dwindled in the last couple of years.
In spite of it all, Labelle remains optimistic about The Bus Stop Theatre’s future.
“It will be a lot of work, but I have to remain hopeful,” he said. “I feel like the alternative is unimaginable for me.”