Meanwhile...Our Online Magazine

  August 25, 2020  

Meanwhile #20
It's hard to believe that this is our 20th edition of
Meanwhile, but it's even harder to believe that the Ed Mirvish Theatre is 100 years old this year! Now that's something to celebrate. Though 2020 has not been quite what we imagined it might be, the Ed Mirvish Theatre puts our intermission in perspective and is a great story of adapting to and surviving in an ever-changing world.

In addition to the remarkable Ed Mirvish Theatre timeline, we've got two great patron stories, a hilarious instalment of Check In From Away and more!

Check in From Away
Cut it out! This week's Check In From Away takes you to the cutting room floor where the most hilarious and previously unseen footage from the series lies. Take a peek behind the scenes at the blooper reel we've put together for some true LOL enjoyment!

i'll Meet you at the TheatreWe recently asked the readers of Meanwhile to submit stories about meeting people at the theatre. Of all the submissions we received, a wonderful story came to us from a Subscriber named Janette. Her letter demonstrated how being a Subscriber, and coming to the theatre regularly, allows new friendships to flourish. Janette’s letter also included a special request. Here’s her story…

Finding the TwinsJanette SubscriberJANETTE
My Story: I moved to Toronto from Halifax 8 years ago and for 7 of those years I have been a Subscriber.

Going to the theatre is always an event no matter the show or time of day, and that is the best part of being in this community. There is 100% given at all times. I love being able to give to a community that has given so much joy to me. It’s a real family affair as both of my uncles are musicians and sometimes they are in the pit so at the start of a show I can say hello and then get transported to whatever world is going to open up on stage. When I attend the theatre I love recognizing the faces of those attending their regular shows. It’s a real treat to see the same people as you get to form a special bond as theatre is such a giving place. Most who go are open to gab about everything they are feeling about the show. When I settled on the perfect seat for my subscription, I found that there were two other lovely women who kept the same seats each year as well. I don't have their names, but they are The Twins who came to the theatre on the same Matinee as I did for years. It was wonderful to look forward to a show and have these special ladies to chat with as I often go alone. Even though they changed their schedule and we will probably not see each other again, I will never forget The Twins and the fun we had before the show and during intermission, discussing what we loved about what we just saw! I’m looking very much forward to when we can all be together in those warm houses again...who knows, I might even see The Twins!

The Search BeginsOur eager staff went into detective mode to see if we could find “The Twins”— and they did! Regina and Rita have also been long-time Subscribers. They shared with us their amazing experiences at the theatre, including their chats with Janette.

The TwinsREGINA AND RITA – “The Twins”

Our story: Yes, it really has been a very special time! We both had demanding, full-time jobs (in different cities), along with raising our families. The earliest we remember being a part of the Mirvish family is in 2000 when we saw the The Lion King, but we think we've been attending the Mirivsh theatres before that. Our yearly Mirvish subscriptions (Off-Mirvish as well) encouraged us to escape from our crazy, busy lifestyles and enjoy a day of friendship (twin sister-time), enriching our lives with thought-provoking dramas and musical productions. We met so many nice Mirvish patrons at the shows, who also shared their joy and insights about the productions. Janette, in particular was a person that we would look forward to seeing in the seat beside us at our matinees. We exchanged comments during the break and we even found out that we had more in common - one of us taught her nephew and niece. Once we retired, we changed to the Wednesday matinee to accommodate our change of income and lifestyle but we are still continuing with our subscriptions to both the Main and the Off-Mirvish Seasons. We have not met another Janette though. Perhaps she would consider changing to the third week, Wednesday matinee?! I'm sure Mirvish would keep the seat open for her beside us.

And There's More...Regina also shared a fond memory with us of attending the production of Beauty and the Beast, including a run in with a certain gentleman!

I still remember taking my daughter to the first showing of Beauty and the Beast. It was the first show she saw and it was on her birthday. David Mirvish was in the side booth at the end of the show. At the time, we couldn't afford to take my husband and son to the show so it was only daughter and mom. The neat thing was that, after the show Mr. Mirvish saw us trying to take a picture (because it was her birthday) and were told that was not allowed. Mr. Mirvish must have overheard that it was Viktoria's birthday and she was a cute little thing too. Anyways, he provided her with a bag full of Beauty and the Beast memorabilia - including a cute t-shirt. What a lovely man. That is our "Mirvish" story that my daughter and I will always cherish. You don't need to give someone a million dollars to make an impact on people's lives. I just wanted to share that with you because after that - when my sister and I both made a little more money - we did get subscriptions and have been going regularly ever since!

Child attends Beauty & The BeastRegina's daughter Viktoria attending Beauty and the Beast in 1995 at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Our Favourite Things

By Sue Toth

terroniFavourite Local Spot
Terroni Sud Forno Produzione E Spaccio
22 Sackville Street

Spaccio the new 16,000 square foot commissary, for the Terroni/Sud Forno group of restaurants. The small Euro style storefront/cafe is open and airy and has an excellent coffee bar with a daily selection of sandwiches, pizza slices, and sweets. The bomboloni, my favourite, pairs perfectly with an espresso. They also offer many fresh, frozen and pantry itemseverything you need for that al fresco dinner you are planning, including wine.

Favourite Show
Girl From The North Country

Girl From The North Country, written and directed by award-winning Irish playwright Conor McPherson, has my heart.  It's a beautiful, moving, and ultimately heartbreaking piece of theatre. The Toronto/London production played the Royal Alex this past fall before transferring to the West End. Based on the music of Bob Dylan, the show features over 20 classic Dylan songs brilliantly arranged by musical supervisor Simon Hale. Standout performances from the superb cast are Katie Brayben Like A Rolling Stone, and Gloria Obianyo Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love?). 

Favourite Arts Organization 
TIFF - Toronto International Film Festival

For 10 days in September (beginning the first Thursday after Labour Day), TIFF, one of the largest film festivals in the world takes over Toronto. It’s my favourite time of year. The energy in the city is palpable. This year, the 45th edition of the festival will take place (Sept. 10 -19), but as expected, it will be different. For more information about TIFF's reimagined physical and digital festival go to:

Me and the royal alexby Briane Nasimok

Briane NasimokWhen I was in Grade 12, I got the best summer job that I could’ve imagined – I was an usher at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

My choice of summer employment was limited because, due to a date with a television star the night before my final French exam, I ended up having to go to summer school – but that’s another story.

That meant I couldn’t get a full-time day job. So evening and weekend work was ideal.

And also – from age 10, when I saw my first live theatre production, there was nowhere else that I would rather be… but on a stage.

There was one, small problem – I lacked what you might call… talent… so I was content to have small roles in high school productions or work in the background. In grade 10 I baked cookies for the cast of The Man Who Came to Dinner… I confess they were made from rolls of refrigerated Pillsbury dough – but they were still tasty.

So when my application was accepted at the Royal Alex, I was thrilled. I was going to be involved with live, professional theatre. And I didn’t have to bake.

I had been to the Alex many times with my parents and the only thing I was concerned about with this new job was my wardrobe. You see the years before my summer employment the ushers had to wear long, heavy, cumbersome waistcoats that went down to their knees.

But luckily things had changed and our uniforms included a red sports jacket, with a gold Royal Alex crest. And black pants.

We had to be at the theatre at least half an hour before the doors opened, to get changed, prepare our programs and make sure our areas had been fully cleaned.

My post was the first balcony, although a few times I was sentenced to the second balcony where if you had vertigo it became a treacherous job.

When the doors to the theatre opened we had to be at our posts. Two of us just inside the doors to the balcony – directing ticket buyers to either the usher on the left aisle or the one on the right.

Sometimes we’d actually usher people to their seats, other times we’d just point. It all depended on who was waiting in line or who gave us a smile.

Once the show started at least one of us would stay in the theatre to make sure that there were no problems.

The other ushers – well let me say – there was a lot of euchre going on in the stairwells.

Part of the responsibility of working the first balcony was helping out at the bar during intermission. In those days it was the only place for a beverage – so two of us were stationed on either end of the steps down to the lounge to assist.

Once the second act started, we had to gather glasses up, put them on trays and take them down the back stairway to the dishwashing machine next door at Ed’s Warehouse.

Even if there was only one tray it was always a two-man job because one of us (usually me) would have the responsibility of “liberating” some of the restaurant‘s buns.

Happily no one ever asked why there were always breadcrumbs in my jacket pocket. I realized that the kitchen staff had been on to our scheme, because on my last day, I was handed a piece of their famous roast beef with my plunder.

During that summer the theatre scheduled two different productions – Chicago’s Second City Touring Company playing the first two weeks of July and the comic play by Canadian Eric Nicol, Like Father, Like Fun, for the rest of the summer.

Second City

Chicago’s Second CityTouring Company with Richard Schaal  (top left)

It was Second City’s first visit to Toronto and they were an instant hit. They stayed for an additional month, meaning many nights we had Second City at 6:30 followed almost immediately by Like Father, Like Fun, at 9:00 pm.

Second City boasted an all-star cast who went on to prosperous careers on stage and screen.

Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber formed a successful comedy duo and Avery was always receptive to a chat. And a few times he and I went out for a meal. Shopsy’s.

Bob Dishy became a regular on the television series Columbo and married cast mate Judy Graubart who was part of the original Sesame Street cast.

And Richard Schaal was seen on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Bob Newhart Show and, among other roles, played “Chuckles the Clown” on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Each night that Second City performed I made sure that I was the usher who stayed inside the theatre – because for me it was like attending Comedy College.

For two weeks during the run Richard Schaal’s girlfriend (who was just beginning to do sketch and improv herself) came to Toronto to visit – spending a lot of time with us ushers in the first balcony.

Of course I became smitten with her, brought her flowers before she left and told her I looked forward to seeing her again.

It was a great summer, which made it hard to go back to high school and become Policeman Number Two in our production of Andorra.

But I persevered in my quest and after university, through an unplanned series of lucky occurrences, somehow I became a member of the Canadian Opera Company, and played the part of Ambrogio when the COC brought its touring of production The Barber of Seville to the Royal Alex ten years later.

The tradition in those days was for Ed Mirvish, on dark Monday nights, to take the casts to dinner at his restaurant.

What a glorious evening of food and fun. Near the end of it I went over to Ed and Yael Simpson, the theatre manager who had been my boss, and introduced myself.

I told them that in 1966 I had been an usher and now I was a soloist. Ed looked at me and said he was very proud of me.

Six years later as I entered the theatre to see a play, and spied Ed and Yael standing just inside the door, I reminded them of what Ed had said. And I continued, “and now I am a subscriber”.

Ed looked at me again and said that he was even more proud of me.

Two weeks after September 11th, 2001 my brother, sister and myself flew to New York to attend a family wedding.

It was a Sunday afternoon just after Broadway had reopened. My brother, Joel, and I went to TKTS and bought tickets to a Neil Simonesque comedy, The Tale of the Allergists Wife.

Before the production I was reading the program and "her" name was there – Richard Schaal's former girlfriend was one of the stars of the show.

I wrote a note and after the performance took it to the stage door. I handed the note to the guard and within minutes a wardrobe person invited Joel and I inside. We were ushered to the bottom of the stairs leading up to the dressing rooms and waited.

Other stars of the show, Michelle Lee and Tony Roberts, came by and greeted us on their way out – and then at the top of the stairs – she appeared and said, "You don't look much older".

She … was Valerie Harper, four-time Emmy award winner, and star of The Mary Tyler Moore show and her sit-com, Rhoda. Valerie walked down the stairs and gave me a hug and a kiss.

I introduced her to my brother and then we chatted for almost ten minutes. I knew what she had been up to – so she got caught up on my life.

There were people waiting for her at the stage door, so she gave both Joel and I a kiss goodbye and left. As we were walking back to our hotel, Joel called his wife and excitedly announced into his cell phone, "Honey, Rhoda kissed me, Rhoda kissed me".

My history with Mirvish has taken me from an audience member to an usher, to a subscriber to a soloist – and in 2002 – to the role of producer.

I wrote and produced the first Gilda’s Club benefit, “It's Always Something”, which was housed at the donated Princess of Wales theatre for many years.

I am pretty sure if Ed was still with us, that he would say – that he is even more proud of me now.

EMT Turns 100The Ed Mirvish Theatre may be Toronto’s most dramatic venue. Although the building, which celebrates its centennial this year, has spent most of its life as a cinema, it has had more drama and conflict offstage than many theatres have had onstage. 

take me to the ed mirvish theatre TIMELINE from 1920 - 2020

The Vaudeville Years
The story begins in 1919. The population of Toronto was approximately half a million, and the city was experiencing a post-war economic boom. Spirits were high and people had money to spend. 

Theatre was the major form of entertainment. This was when movies were in their infancy, even before radio was readily available. Toronto had many splendid legitimate theatres that presented dramas, comedies and musicals, with the Royal Alexandra recognized as the finest. 

What the city did not have was a grand vaudeville house.

Vaudeville was the most “common” of the performing arts. A French word describing a musical and comedic genre that did not rely on story, plot, characters or any of the other features we associate with theatre, vaudeville brought together a collection of variety acts that demanded very little of the audience’s attention. This genre morphed into music hall in England before crossing the Atlantic.

In North America, where it was dominant from 1880 to 1930, it was easy, inexpensive entertainment for the masses. It included popular songs, magic acts, acrobatics, animal acts, comics, clowns and dancers. When silent films became popular, they too were added to this loose collection of diversions. 

Vaudeville was big business with thousands of vaudevillians crisscrossing the continent in troupes, entertaining tens of millions of people in every city and town. 

Canadian impresario, Nathan L. Nathanson, believed Toronto was not well-served in vaudeville. He was determined to build the biggest, most extravagant vaudeville theatre in all of Canada and bring the best vaudeville troupes to the city. 

He hired the most successful architect of the gilded age theatres in North America to bring his vision to life. Thomas Lamb had designed over 300 major theatres across North America, including New York’s Madison Square Garden. 

Lamb did not build ordinary theatres; he created opulent palaces of dreams. For the low price of a ticket, even the lowliest member of society could be transported into a luxurious, extravagant setting to enjoy a few hours away from the drudgery of the workaday world. 

Nathanson’s grand theatre would have to be located on Toronto’s main thoroughfare, Yonge Street. But even back then, real estate prices in the city were ridiculously expensive. The solution was to purchase a narrow plot of land on expensive Yonge Street, that led to a larger plot (on which the main body of the theatre would be built) on Victoria Street, where land was half the price. The same “trick” was used at Toronto’s double-decker theatres, the Elgin and Winter Garden, also designed by Lamb a few years earlier. 

The Yonge Street entrance, known as “the link,” made a grand statement and set the tone for a special night out. 

Lamb used two design styles throughout the building: Adam and Empire. The decorative flourishes of these two styles were combined with neo-classical symmetry. Walls and ceilings were decorated with mouldings of oval fans, garlands and other classical motifs – panels, niches and Greek columns. 

To make sure his 3,600-seat theatre had an endless supply of vaudeville acts and movies, Nathanson partnered with Adolph Zucker of Paramount Pictures to form Famous Players Canada. This new company then signed onto the Pantages vaudeville circuit, a well-known commodity that programmed over 70 theatres on the continent. To promote this affiliation, Canada’s biggest (the second biggest in the world), most expensive entertainment palace was named the Pantages. 

On August 28, 1920, a notice in The Evening Telegram promised “TO-NIGHT AT THE PANTAGES THEATRE A new page will be written in Toronto’s theatrical history”.

Throughout the 1920s, under Pantages’ programming, the theatre followed a policy that stated, “The bills will include six unequalled vaudeville acts, features, photoplays, and an admirable selection of film comedies and news reels.”

Shows ran continuously from 12 noon to 11 pm. Admission was 25 cents for matinees, and 45 cents after 5 pm. 

The Cinema Years

Over the years, new developments in film technology brought on a shift in programming. Motion picture features became the headliners, and vaudeville acts played second fiddle. By 1929, with the introduction of “talkies,” the reign of vaudeville was coming to an end.

But it wasn’t the ascendancy of talking pictures that brought the Pantages’ vaudeville empire to an abrupt end in 1929; it was a scandal.

Alexander Pantages, the man behind the company, was accused and convicted of attempted rape. The charges were overturned in a retrial, when it was proven that RKO Pictures, which was seeking a ready-to-own circuit of theatres to show their movies in, had “staged” the attempted rape in order to force the sale of the Pantages theatres. But the damage was done and Mr. Pantages sold his business to RKO at below-cost prices. (Because the Toronto venue was never owned by Pantages, it was not part of the RKO deal.) 

This scandal forced the first in a series of name changes to the Toronto venue. On March 15, 1930 it officially was renamed the Imperial Theatre and became the flagship cinema of Famous Players, which would quickly become the major movie chain across Canada. 

The Imperial continued to offer vaudeville and movies until 1935 when it exclusively became a cinema. At this point, the first of many destructive changes were made. The orchestra pit was filled in with cement and the box seats were left empty.

As a single-screen movie house, the Imperial enjoyed many successful decades, but as television became the dominant form of mass entertainment, a cinema of its size could no longer earn a profit showing only one movie.

On September 4, 1972, the doors of the single-screen Imperial closed after the record-breaking run of The Godfather.

A $2 million reconstruction, designed by Mandel Sprachman, sliced and diced Thomas Lamb’s vaudeville palace into six small cinemas.

To accomplish this, a great deal of its architectural integrity was destroyed: the original finishes were concealed, the proscenium arch was demolished, portions of the balcony were removed, and the grand ceiling dome was largely dismantled.

What remained was painted over, murals were replaced, and the stained-glass window on the grand staircase that was one of the building’s most defining features was removed. The exterior of the building was not spared. A new façade replaced the iconic Yonge Street entrance and marquee.

On June 21, 1973, the doors opened on the Imperial Six, one of the world’s first “multiplexes.” The building once again became profitable, but the success came to a sudden and unexpected crashing halt in 1986. 

The theatre had always occupied three plots of land. Famous Players owned two plots: the Yonge St entrance (“the link”); and the south half of the main building, from the centre of the dome to the back wall of the stage house. 

The north half of the main building – including the Victoria St entrance, and the majority of space that housed four of the six cinemas – was owned by a private family, with whom Famous Players had a 66-year lease since the original construction. The lease for this important plot came up on May 24, 1986. 

A dispute over the renewal terms of the lease with the remaining elderly member of the family opened the door for Famous Players’ main competitor, Cineplex Odeon. Unbeknown to Famous Players, Cineplex bought the north part of the building from the elderly relative. 

Early that morning, a sheriff, team of lawyers, locksmith and construction crew, entered the north part of the building on Victoria Street, changed the locks and built plywood walls between Cineplex’s plot and those belonging to Famous Players. This bitter fight over dominance of the downtown entertainment core of Toronto made front-page news. 

The Imperial Six could no longer function. It would remain dark for more than a year, while Famous Players and Cineplex fought it out in the courts and in the media. 

Cleverly, Cineplex found a way to convert their portion of the building into a single-screen movie cinema, which they named the Pantages in honour of the building’s early history. Although there were significant limitations to what was possible, attempts were made towards the historical restoration of the building. 

A much-publicized Grand Opening was planned for December 12, 1987, with the Canadian premiere of Wall Street. Famous Players did not sit idly by and watch their competitor succeed. They complained to the Ontario Fire Marshal. But their tactic only delayed the opening by a few hours. 

Finally, in April 1988, the bitter battle between Cineplex and Famous Players came to an end. Famous Players agreed to sell their portions of the building if Cineplex would never use the venue for the exhibition of motion pictures.

Cineplex, which had already established a new live entertainment division to produce and present stage productions, agreed. 

The theatre Years

With the entire building now under their control, Cineplex set a new plan for a total reconstruction and restoration of the theatre, back to the splendour of its original 1920 design. 

At the same time, the company secured the Canadian rights to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. The opening was set for September of 1989. 

The design team used Lamb’s original drawings and photos to piece together a restoration plan. Great efforts were made to maintain as much of the original design as possible, with allowances to meet the demands of modern-day productions, audiences and safety protocols. The entire project would be completed in 15 months and cost $18 million. 

Some of the techniques used to save money in the original construction, such as the faux-marble technique called “scagliola,” had fallen out of use. Finding artisans to recreate the faux marble was more expensive than using real marble, but the team was determined to be as authentic as possible to the original construction. 

Most of the original 1920 plaster ornamentation had been destroyed or badly damaged over the years. More than 3,500 new plaster casts were created in the process of restoring the decorative ornamentation in the auditorium and lobby. 

The original stained-glass window had been lost for decades but was serendipitously discovered one night by the project’s design coordinator who noticed it in a window of a Rosedale private residence. The owners enthusiastically, and graciously, agreed to return it to its original home. 

The newly restored Pantages Theatre, with a capacity of 2,300 seats, officially opened with The Phantom of the Opera on September 20, 1989. Both the restoration and the musical were smash hits. The show would run 10 years, setting a Canadian record. 

A few months after the opening, Cineplex’s two principal executives, Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb, left the company but purchased Cineplex’s live entertainment division and called it Livent. 

In 1998, the two were ousted from Livent and the company filed for bankruptcy protection. Its assets were bought by the American company Clear Channel Entertainment, which later became Live Nation. 

In 2001, Live Nation leased the building to David and Ed Mirvish, with a first option to purchase it. 

The same year, a pledge of support for the theatre came from Canon Canada, Inc. In recognition, the theatre was renamed the Canon. 

In 2008, after seven years of successfully managing it, David Mirvish bought the theatre. 

In December 2011, at the end of the Canon partnership, the theatre again received a new name. Looking for a suitable way to honour his father, who had passed away in July 2007, David Mirvish renamed the iconic building the Ed Mirvish. 

And the drama never stops! 

The global pandemic stopped the Canadian premiere of Hamilton in its tracks and has delayed the 2020 Canadian premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

But as this beautiful building has shown, she can withstand any adversity. She will be here, ready and waiting to welcome productions and thousands of theatregoers as soon as it is safe to do so.

take me to the ed mirvish theatre TIMELINE from 1920 - 2020