York’s Vanier College Productions (VCP) successfully completed the fall term of its 35th season this month, but not without a struggle. The little theatre company that could has overcome much in the last two years in its quest to continue as a vibrant part of York.
Its founding artistic director Fred Thury passed away days before the opening night of his last play in 2006, and after getting permission to name the theatre in his honour, the theatre was closed for fire code and safety violations.
Right: Fred Thury
"Fred was a really talented person. He wrote plays, he wrote music, he built and designed sets; he was a performer, a mentor and an indefatigable educator. He used to always say – ‘what I can give students is a grounded overall experience of what it takes to make theatre happen’," said Nancy Accinelli, executive producer of VCP.
It took time, money and help from friends to renovate the theatre and bring it in line with fire code regulations, but the work is finally complete.
A small gathering of Thury’s family, friends and alumni of VCP officially opened the Fred Thury Studio Theatre, formerly the Vanier Studio Theatre, on Oct. 13. That same night it was announced that the Fred Thury Award is now an endowed fund and will go annually to a student who contributes to theatre at Vanier.
Left: President Emeritus Lorna R. Marsden at the opening of the Fred Thury Studio Theatre
The theatre closed in March 2006 during a tumultuous time in VCP’s history. The play Comedy/Errors, a version of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors adapted with music by Thury, was set to open on March 10. Thury died on March 6 following a long battle with leukemia and on March 9 during a memorial for Thury in Toronto, the fire marshall ordered Vanier Studio Theatre closed.
"After Fred died, days before the show, the whole company came together, the costumes were finished, the set was completed," Accinelli said. "Then I got a phone call that the fire marshall had closed our theatre."
There was a long list of things that had to be fixed in the theatre before the production could go on the next day.
"A core of about 10 current members and alumni answered the call for help, including my husband, working from 9am to 6pm, and did all the things needed to get it ready. I was deeply moved by what they all did to make this happen," Accinelli said. "The show did go on in the end. It was such an emotional time and the kids were so good. We did a three-week run and then the doors were closed."
Left: A scene from In the Woods
Even after the doors closed, though, VCP continued to stage events while renovations were underway. Following a series of focus group meetings to determine the future of VCP and to resolve the problem of not having a performance stage, the company became a "portable" theatre production company, bringing back an improv company – the Vanier Improv Company (VIC) – and continuing to provide musical theatre through its new Cabaret Company. The company gave performances in Vanier’s space, The Renaissance.
"For each performance the company had to create a stage and setting and install lighting, then take it all down the same night," Accinelli said.
During the 2006-2007 academic year, the company created nine theatrical spaces in three different locations.
This fall, there were VIC shows every other Monday and a two-night run of The Heartbreak Hotel developed by the Cabaret Company. The final production of the year – The Farm Show – concluded Dec. 1 in the newly renovated theatre.
VCP is looking forward to putting on more improv and cabaret productions beginning in January and a one-act play festival in early March. A combined show with VIC and the Cabaret Company will end off the term later in March.
Right: A scene from Dirty Work from the Crossroads
Now that the Fred Thury Award has been secured, Accinelli is trying to establish an endowment fund for the theatre. A $100 donation provides a miniature Victorian pewter chair, to be mounted on permanent display. Each donor then receives a memento of that donation.
The short-term goal of this project is to raise $25,000 to establish an endowment fund. The long-term goal is to raise $200,000 to fund future leadership of the company. Twenty-four chairs have been sold so far. Donations to the Vanier College Productions Endowment Fund can be made through the York University Foundation.
The Fred Thury Studio Theatre is in Room 258 at Vanier College.
By Sandra McLean, York communications officer.