Darke Hall is returning to the spotlight for the Regina arts community, as a new generation of musicians and performers move in.
The concert hall is getting a $4 million upgrade thanks to fundraising efforts from the College Avenue Campus Renewal Project. This week the South Saskatchewan Youth Orchestra and Do it with Class Young People’s Theatre announced a partnership to move into the building.
Darke Hall opened in 1929 and for decades it was Regina’s principal concert hall and theatre until the Conexus Arts Centre opened in 1970.
Do it With Class artistic director Rob Ursan calls the building a lost gem. He grew up performing in concerts on that stage and started directing plays there in the 90s.
“There is a feeling that you get when you walk into an old theatre,” Ursan commented. “A lot of people talk about it with the older theatres in some of the older cities – that you walk into a theatre that feels like it’s from the old world and you behave differently.”
He is also looking forward to teaching his students how to use the natural acoustics in the building to project their voices without microphones.
For Ursan and many other musicians in the city, the theatre is haunted by musical memories. He recalls the time a budding Broadway star named Paul Nolan starred in a Regina Lyric production of Mikado. He was 25 minutes late because his grade 12 graduation was the same day.
“I went on and sang his first number and then he came on stage and said ‘Can I have my role back please,'” Ursan said.
Now Ursan is excited to bring a new generation of youth to the stage that holds a special place in Regina’s musical history.
“This is a very old building and you look around and it just feels magical almost,” said 15-year-old Ceiligh Dodds.
She is looking forward to continuing the tradition of performance and music on the stage.
“You hear all these really cool stories of people that you know that have performed here or come here to see someone perform here and that’s going to be me soon, so that’s pretty cool,” Dodds commented.
Brad Mahon is the head of the Conservatory of Performing Arts at the University of Regina which currently uses the building. Right now it is not available officially for public rentals. For the past several years, Darke Hall has only been used for a few concerts and private recitals, but the plans for upgrades will fix some of the current limitations.
“Part of it is to make the hall a viable public use hall again,” he said.
He says the biggest challenge right now is accessibility and that is one why Darke Hall has fallen out of popular use. An anonymous donor has come forward with $1 million specifically earmarked for renovations to improve accessibility.
He said the idea is to return the building to its former glory as a marquee performance hall. The partner groups will be touring the building on Thursday with an architect to discuss some of the possible upgrades for the space.