JOHN LAW QMI Agency — The newly-renovated Seneca Queen Theatre on Queen St. in Niagara Falls may be looking for new tenants this year. It’s unclear whether Fort Erie’s Gypsy Theatre will return for a second season.
NIAGARA FALLS — Gypsy Theatre’s stay in Niagara Falls may have been a short one.
After a much-ballyhooed debut on Queen Street last year, the Fort Erie-based company’s future in the Seneca Queen Theatre appears uncertain for 2010.
Mordechai Grun, president of property owners Historic Niagara Development, says while Gypsy Theatre “tried their best, and they worked hard,” he would not confirm the company is returning for a second season this year.
“Theatre is extremely important for the future of downtown and the future of the arts,” says Grun. “However, with its present situation there’s a viability problem. These challenges are faced by all communities.”
The theatre has been based in a former movie theatre and nightclub that sat empty for close to a decade before Grun — the key figure in the downtown’s resurgence — poured more than $1 million of his own money into renovations.
Insisting live entertainment is a huge piece of the Queen St. puzzle, he invited Gypsy Theatre to be the “resident theatre company” for the revamped facility.
The husband and wife team of John Dalingwater and Bernadette Feeney formed Gypsy Theatre in Fort Erie 21 years ago. In addition to theatre, the company runs the Gypsy Theatre Academy offering theatre training for youth. Their theatre is on Central Ave. in Fort Erie.
With Grun’s approval, Dalingwater and Feeney oversaw nearly a year of extensive work on the Seneca, installing a new stage, hundreds of seats and a lavish lobby makeover.
The couple insisted they were not leaving Fort Erie, however. Niagara Falls would be a sister theatre to their Fort Erie operations.
The new theatre opened in May with a three-week run of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Subsequent shows included Shirley Valentine, Nunsense and Blood Brothers. The first season wrapped up with Narnia in December.
It was evident early on, however, that paying customers were tough to come by: Opening night for Blood Brothers in October attracted barely 50 people to the 310-seat theatre.
Upset that a local review suggested the shows were overpriced at $40 a ticket, the company initiated a money-back guarantee for its run of Narnia and the final week of Blood Brothers.
It’s unclear what, if any, effect it had on the box office. Gypsy Theatre did not respond to several messages left by QMI Agency.
Despite announcing a second season on Queen St., there is no indication at the theatre or on the company’s website of any future shows in Niagara Falls.
Grun says funding — either private or government — is crucial to operating professional theatre. Last year, Gypsy Theatre received $50,000 from the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund and $75,000 from Celebrate Ontario. There is no guarantee it’ll get similar grants this year.
“(Gypsy) had certain government grant commitments which they do not have for this year, so they’re going to need to work things out,” he says.
“You need certain government funding, you need certain private sector partners, and all these things have to come together.”
Without continuous live theatre, Grun has several other ideas for the building. He said he prefers an anchor tenant to further shape Queen St.’s identity as an arts and entertainment district.
“I still believe, at the end of the day, the theatre is an important component of the downtown. We have to figure out how to make it really successful.”
This article was originally posted by Welland Tribune