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A Message from Artistic Director, Jonathan Christenson

September 16, 2015

On August 31st, Catalyst said its final farewell to the theatre we began creating on Gateway Boulevard nineteen years ago. At that time there was no theatre there at all – only a neglected, graffiti-covered, shack-of-a-retired-railway-storehouse with chipped and broken asbestos tile falling from its sides and garbage piled in heaps all around it.  There was no “Big Miller Park”, no gardens along Gateway Boulevard and no “Farmer’s Market Parking Lot” – only a great big field overgrown with weeds, bushes and trees.  Inside the building, the roof was in such bad shape you could actually see slivers of sky through it, the floor was covered in puddles of stagnant rainwater, and there was junk scattered everywhere. There was no heat, no running water, no insulation – there wasn’t even a proper doorway into the space.  The landlords, (the Edmonton Jazz Society owns the building which sits on land which they lease from the City of Edmonton), told us they were considering demolition if a suitable – or perhaps more accurately: suitably delusional – tenant couldn’t be found by the end of that summer.

Still … this ram-shackled old place was 6400 square feet of wide-open space near Edmonton’s fringe theatre district! And, as we looked around, we didn’t see a tear-down at all! We saw what we imagined it could become: Edmonton’s first and only flexible studio/performance space for creating and presenting bold new work.  We were going to bring prairie bohemian chic to Edmonton: “Catalyst” – as we first dubbed the space – would be a cross between community hall kitsch, Warhol’s uber-hip Factory, and Jennifer Beals’ ultra-cool “Flashdance” studio!?!

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Co-Artistic Directors, Joey Tremblay & Jonathan Christenson.

Today, Edmonton is in the midst of redefining itself as a city of risk-takers, builders and creators, people who come together behind an idea and make something where before there was nothing.  If that’s true, the story of how Catalyst built its theatre on Gateway Boulevard epitomizes the very best of what Edmonton can be.  When we were starting out, we looked around us and saw there was no affordable black box performance space for professional theatre.  So we set out to make one.  And, with the help of friends, family members and supporters we did just that – framing, drywalling, mudding, taping and painting our little theatre into being!

From window to door, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, toilet to sink, there’s not a corner of the building that doesn’t have a story behind it:  Joey Tremblay sawing holes in its side to create windows and a front door, Heather Redfern up a ladder painting the exterior, Ray Christenson and Bard Golightly framing walls and hanging doors and installing windows, Kevin Sutley jack-hammering cement floors to lay new plumbing as a whole team of us hauled second-hand toilets and sinks into the building to create public washrooms, Kent Gallie and Siân Williams and Dov Mickelson drywalling walls and ceilings, Julianna Barclay, Kevin Kruchkywich, Aaron Franks, Manon Beaudoin and Caroline Livingstone painting every surface inside the building black, Bretta Gerecke stapling fabric to the walls or hanging light fixtures or painting polka dots, Ron Jenkins building planters, Ivan Siemens assembling a modified sylo to serve as our signature entrance, Hazel and Jenifer Christenson, Brenda and Keith McNicol, Jill Rozsell and Lana Hughes and Kevin Green and Aaron Wicks and every single board member that ever served Catalyst as well as the dozens of passionate theatre supporters who united to make this dream into a reality, these are the people who built the little black box theatre that has since become a permanent fixture on Edmonton’s cultural landscape. And although the building belongs to the Edmonton Jazz Society, what it is, what it has become, is a testament to this city’s passionate theatre community who “made” it.  Without them and Catalyst Theatre’s staff and supporters there would, quite simply, be no theatre at 8529 Gateway Boulevard and Edmonton would be one rehearsal and performance space poorer.

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Managing Producer, Heather Redfern.

When I look around me today I see numerous examples of venues created in much the same way by other small arts organizations, start-ups and not-for profits.  All of them grass-roots projects built with ingenuity, determination and hard work.  What all of these spaces have in common is their heart and soul. You can feel the energy and investment of the people who made them.  They are not cold or lifeless, not just bricks and mortar. They contain all the love and blood and sweat and tears that went into making them.  Unfortunately though, these “made” spaces are all too often owned by people other than those who brought them into being – landlords with little or no investment in what the space has come to mean to the broader community.  When it serves them, they end their relationships with these “makers”.  Thus, over time, the spaces we create as communities come and go.  All of us at Catalyst take a great sense of pride, then, to know that the space we brought into being has become one of the city’s most enduring examples of the “made in Edmonton” spirit.

Over the past nineteen years our faithful little theatre has enabled us to launch more than 150 events.  Many of these were international tours of original Catalyst productions that gave people around the world a small taste of the remarkable work coming out of this city.  We’ve also shared many of our most meaningful moments with audiences in this space – the premieres of “The Abundance Trilogy”, “Songs for Sinners”, “Frankenstein” and “Nevermore” were truly electric moments for us inside our little theatre.  Beyond these, she has served countless other theatre and dance companies, not-for-profit organizations and indie artists in developing, rehearsing and presenting their own events.  She has, in short, been a faithful servant of theatre artists and audiences, both in Edmonton and around the world for nearly twenty years.

Five years ago, the Edmonton Jazz Society informed us that they would not be renewing our lease.  At the time we understood that they wanted to convert the theatre into music classrooms and studios.  We feared the loss of one of Edmonton’s established live theatre venues, but the decision was out of our hands.  Thus began our search for a new home – a story unto itself.  Suffice to say that we are very excited about creating a new home for Catalyst in The Citadel’s gorgeous Maclab Theatre.

So, what will happen to the beloved little theatre we created as Catalyst leaves her behind to embark on an exciting new chapter in our own journey? Well, despite the Jazz Society’s original intention to reclaim the space, we’re very happy to say that her journey, it turns out, is not over.  She will live on for at least a few more years as Theatre Network becomes her new custodian, re-fashioning her into a temporary theatrical home in the wake of their tragic fire last January.  Thus, while everyone at Catalyst leaves her behind with no small amount of sadness, we’re comforted by the knowledge that Catalyst’s legacy lives on:  the little 150-seat flexible theatre and creation space we began creating nineteen years ago will continue to serve Edmonton’s theatre audiences and artists for at least a few more years.  And so, the heart of our beloved little theatre beats on!