A scene of the times, performances at Neptune Theatre date back 109 years

Posted on July 05, 2024 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments

 

Neptune Theatre’s main theatre Fountain Hall is named after a large donor to its major renovation project in the ‘90s (photo credit: Neptune Theatre)

Welcoming generations of patrons, live performances have been shown at Neptune Theatre’s auditorium for over a century. While the building has had its share of changes over time, the theatre in downtown Halifax remains a vibrant part of the community as its influence grows across the country.

Prologue

Designed by notable architect Andrew Cobb, the theatre where Neptune now stands was built in 1915 in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. First called Strand Theatre, the vaudeville house saw some success but closed in 1926 due to extensive fire damage.

After renovations, the building reopened as Garrick Repertory Theatre in 1928, which hosted summer and winter seasons of live performances. While the global stock market crash in 1929 forced the Garrick to close shop, the building was revived again a year later as Odeon Cinema, which successfully operated as a movie theatre for over 30 years.

Seating inside Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall (photo credit: Neptune Theatre)

Founding Neptune

In the ‘50s, Bob Strand envisioned turning Halifax into the Stratford of Canada’s east coast, enriching its economy and tourist appeal. He formed what is now the Neptune Theatre Foundation and the collective group worked to make his vision a reality. In 1962, Colonel Sidney Oland of Oland Breweries purchased the Odeon Cinema building and donated it to the Foundation. Neptune Theatre officially opened its doors on July 1, 1963, debuting with a performance of Major Barbara.

With initial success, Neptune operated year-round, creating live performances locally, as well as bringing shows across the Maritimes and the rest of Canada. Financial troubles in the late ‘60s forced the organization to restrategize, resulting in theatre season subscription options (which continue today).

Audience reviews of Neptune Theatre’s showing of The Full Monty (video credit: Neptune Theatre on YouTube)

Building and rebuilding

After celebrating 25 seasons, plans began for major renovations of Neptune Theatre. Throughout the ‘90s, a second Studio Theatre was added along with rehearsal spaces, offices and a theatre school. Renovations concluded in 1997 and Neptune Theatre fittingly unveiled its new space with showings of Major Barbara.

The revived space allowed Neptune to expand programming and utilize its theatre school to train local talent and expose more people to live theatre. Laura Thornton, communications specialist with Neptune Theatre, says the organization has built a robust training program and grown to fully develop shows in-house using its growing pool of local actors and crew. Over the past two decades, Neptune has also increased efforts to bring its work across the country.

A show on the main stage of Neptune Theatre (photo credit: Neptune Theatre).

On with the show

Today, operations continue at Neptune Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Recent renovations have focused on improving accessibility, so as many people can enjoy the local theatre as possible. Thornton explains this is a major focus for Neptune, along with expanding its reach across Canada.

Of course, locals continue to support the century-old theatre, including one long-time patron who’s been a subscriber since the ‘60s. Thornton says this is what she loves about being part of the organization: “A benefit of having a business that’s has been around for so long is you develop real relationships with people and see generations of families enjoy the theatre.”


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