By this time next year, YES Theatre plans on opening The Refettorio, a $2.8-million outdoor theatre space at 131 Durham Street.
The project, artistic and managing director Alessandro Constantini said, will help usher in a “cultural renaissance” in Greater Sudbury
In close proximity to both Place des Arts and the Sudbury Theatre Centre, he said it will play an important role in establishing a large-scale theatre festival.
“We know we can build this into something that is recognized across the globe; a musical theatre festival that is celebrated,” he said, adding that it will contribute toward Greater Sudbury being better recognized as a tourist destination for the arts.
Plus, he said its affordable nature will make it accessible to the local arts community, which ties into its name. ‘Refettorio’ is Italian, meaning communal dining hall.
“I’ve always viewed theatre-making as this sacred practice of bringing people together and sort of feeding your souls,” Constantini said, adding that the word’s Latin origins, which means to ‘remake’ and ‘restore’, are also relevant to what the theatre company is striving to do.
Constantini joined YES Theatre general manager and executive producer Scott Denniston in appearing as a delegation at Tuesday’s city council meeting, at which a business case requesting $50,000 for the project was forwarded toward 2022 budget deliberations.
Sudbury.com reached out to Constantini the following day, at which time he affirmed that he’s steadfast in his belief the facility will open next year and that shovels will be in the ground as early as the snow melts.
“This project is going to happen regardless of those elements that arrive and we’re going to find the money no matter what we need to do,” he said. “I’ve always been of the mind that you need to pull the trigger, especially in the theatre — you need to go.”
What later became known as The Refettorio began last year as a much smaller project — what Constantini considered a “Band-Aid” solution to the health restrictions thrust upon the world as a result of COVID-related health restrictions.
The original plan was to cobble together some kind of makeshift outdoor theatre at the vacant lot, and then they realized it would take more work than they initially thought it would.
“As we went through that process I also started to see there was enormous potential here to create something wonderful, and it blossomed into an avenue for clarifying our artistic vision for the future,” Constantini told Sudbury.com.
This plan was fine-tuned over the subsequent months until it took on the form presented to city council on Tuesday.
At its centre is a 15th-century thrust-style outdoor stage, which has audience seating for 175 people at three sides of the stage, such as what is typically seen at Shakespearean festivals.
To one side is a narrow two-storey building with washrooms on both floors and a large technical booth on the second floor. The facility is wholly accessible, as Constantini said their goal is to ensure there are no barriers to people wishing to soak up local culture.
The central downtown location in the midst of an arts hub is integral to the plan, Constantini said, and they’re currently working to purchase 131 Durham Street.
Necessary to making all this a reality has been gathering the funds, and as of Tuesday’s city council meeting they’ve either confirmed or have pending the entire $2.8-million cost.
In the pending column is the City of Greater Sudbury, with the city’s elected officials unanimously opting during Tuesday’s meeting to have city administration draft a business case to pledge $50,000 toward the project. This business case will be debated during 2022 budget deliberations.
“We don’t fund the arts and culture enough,” Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre said, throwing his support behind the project.
“Compared to other municipalities we’re still on the low end,” he said, adding that culture is what makes a community vibrant and attractive to others.
Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland commended YES Theatre’s preparedness for taking on this significant project, which includes $100,000 in funding from the non-profit organization’s reserves.
It’s “bonkers” an arts-based non-profit organization only in its 12th season has been successful enough to accumulate this money, McCausland said.
“I have absolute confidence that they’ll be successful and we will have a very unique and attractive made-in-Sudbury venue that will help to draw people in our community and help people in our community come out and meet each other and see this place, and it will be a great gathering place post-COVID.”
Other confirmed funding sources include $750,000 from the federal Canada Cultural Spaces Fund and $100,000 from the Desjardins GoodSpark Fund.
Despite the initial ask of various levels of government and corporate sponsors, Constantini said the facility will not require subsidization, as its $22,600 annual operating costs will be covered by various revenue streams.
That said, he clarified that their goal is to maintain fees as affordable as possible, which is in keeping with their goal of keeping the arts as accessible as possible in the community.
Although they’ve been working mainly behind the scenes to this point, Constantini said YES Theatre will be launching a public crowdfunding campaign next month to secure additional funding for the project.
More information on the campaign will be available on their website, yestheatre.com.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.