Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Al Mulock's Red Barn Theatre burns!

But officials say shows must go on for 60th anniversary
Apr 20, 2009 04:30 AM


Hugh Sibbald was just about to leave work Saturday night when a piece of his family's history went up in flames.

Night staff at The Briars Resort, which Sibbald runs, alerted him that the nearby Red Barn Theatre was on fire. He opened the gates for fire crews and watched as Canada's oldest professional summer theatre burned to the ground.

"There wasn't much they could do but keep it from spreading," said Sibbald, whose great-great-uncle Frank built the barn in 1883 on the family's land at Jackson's Point on Lake Simcoe.

The fire started about 10:30 p.m. When it was extinguished about two hours later, nothing was left standing but two partial walls. The silo is the only part of the landmark that may be saved, Sibbald said. "It was one of the things that brought prestige and awareness to the community," he said. "We're all sad."

Toronto actor Alfred Mulock rented the barn from the Sibbald family in 1949 and converted it into a theatre. It quickly developed into an important proving ground for young actors, and hosted some of the biggest Canadian stage stars, comedians and writers. Martha Henry, Barbara Hamilton and June Callwood all appeared there.
This season, the company's 60th, was scheduled to start June 18 with a production of Tennessee Williams' classic The Glass Menagerie helmed by artistic director Jordan Merkur. The same play graced the theatre's inaugural season.

"On opening nights, it feels like you're going to a party where everybody knows each other," said Merkur, who has run the place since 2001. "We've had audience members in their 70s who have been coming since they were kids."

Despite the fire, the company says the show must go on. "We've got to try our darndest and our best to put on all or at least the majority of our 60th annual season," said Bob Smith, president of the theatre's board of directors. "It's very distressing and there's a lot of deep sadness in the community."

The company hasn't determined exactly how they will continue, but Georgina Mayor Rob Grossi is planning to ask town council today to come up with a plan to keep it going.
No one was hurt in the fire, and investigators are looking for a cause.

Thanks to Mike Ferguson for e-mailing me the above story. - TB

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