Local venues increase enthusiasm for returning audiences to theaters



Erick Casselman looks a little dazed as he stands next to the nearly finished bar at the Park Theater. The site owner is flanked by a large scaffold bench on one side and a scissor lift on the other. There are half a dozen construction workers moving the lumber, drywall, and wiring back and forth. An electric drill buzzes in the background.

“I’m still anxious and nervous. I mean, you saw it, there’s a lot to do,” Casselman said when asked what he thought of the state of the room the Friday before. its reopening for indoor concerts. “They tell me we’ll be done.

After 19 months of calm – except for the constant noise of construction work – the park is once again welcoming the public with a noisy weekend. Winnipeg punk band Propagandhi performs three shows at South Osborne Hall from Friday to Sunday. Tickets sold out quickly – a phenomenon according to Casselman is twofold.


Park Theater owner Eric Casselman oversaw a massive renovation of the South Osborne site. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

“Winnipeg loves Prop; we could probably do a month-long residency here,” he says. “It’s been too long. We’ve had a few opportunities for live music (outdoors)… but it’s not the same as being in a real concert hall and being in a room designed for live music. . ”

And build that he has. When the drywall dust settles, the Park Theater will be unrecognizable to returnees; the wall separating the foyer from the stage has been removed and replaced by a zigzag accessibility ramp.

“We have a few clients who come quite often for shows, where we would help them up and down the stairs,” says Casselman. “This is one of the main reasons we made this particular renovation.”


The Park Theater renovations, which include a wheelchair ramp, are expected to be completed in time for a Friday concert with Propagandhi.  (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Park Theater renovations, which include a wheelchair ramp, are expected to be completed in time for a Friday concert with Propagandhi. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

The women’s, men’s and gender-neutral restrooms were also significantly expanded, and the bar was extended and pushed against the north wall of the space. The park’s capacity doubled to nearly 700 people, moving it into mid-sized venues, a sparsely populated position in Winnipeg.

The room is new and the movements feel new again for Casselman, who has not hosted a show since March 13, 2020.

“I couldn’t even remember how to order alcohol this morning,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s almost like starting a new business. It’s interesting, it keeps me awake at night.”


Nothing has changed at Times Change (d) High and Lonesome Club, but owner John Scoles is preparing for a return to routine.

“It’s like you go out and run a bunch of marathons in new, interesting places,” he says. “And now you’re going to come home and just start over on the treadmill and keep in shape for everything that follows.”


John Scoles is preparing to welcome clients back inside the room at the corner of Main Street and St. Mary Avenue.

JOHN WOODS / FREE PRESS KIT

John Scoles is preparing to welcome clients back inside the room at the corner of Main Street and St. Mary Avenue.

Scoles wrapped up their second season of outdoor concerts last weekend – they booked for the Beer Can patio last summer and turned the space into Blue Note Park this year – and are preparing to once again host customers inside the room at the corner of Main Street and Avenue Sainte-Marie.

In true honky-tonk style, the first returning show is Sean Burns and Lost Country on October 22. And blues legend Big Dave McLean’s regular Sunday night jam sessions return in no time on October 31.

Scoles hopes that its customers will return in large numbers before the pandemic, ready to comply with current public health requirements: masks and full vaccinations. In the past two years of outdoor and online concerts, however, he has come to realize that his community exists beyond the club.

“It’s not just these walls that unite these people,” Scoles says. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m grateful for the resilience of our community and can’t wait to see how they rise to the challenge.”


It’s a similar story at the Good Will Social Club. Last year, the Portage Avenue site launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover expenses while the doors were closed. The community mobilized and raised nearly $ 60,000 in response.

“It’s heartwarming that so many people who… wanted the goodwill to stay alive,” said co-owner Anthony Kowalczyk. “There has been this massive support that has happened and you are a little crippled by what you can do to actually thank people.”

“There has been this massive support that has happened and you are a little crippled by what you can do to actually thank people.” -Anthony Kowalczyk

The audience hopes to make up for lost time. The Good Will had their first indoor show last weekend and are back on Saturday with Totally Tens, a 2010 celebration of music featuring DJs Co-Op, Hunnicutt and Lambo. Staff had to adjust the lineup last weekend as not all of the original performers were fully vaccinated prior to the show. Kowalczyk expects these rules and the reluctance of travel to make booking artists and acts out of town more tricky in the future.

Still, the club are planning a big party later this month to celebrate their eighth (and missed seventh) birthday.

“We will have to catch up for two years,” Kowalczyk says.

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Twitter: @evawasney

Eva wasney

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