The Royal Theatre turns 100 this year but, while on a tour of the Theatre this week, I learned that age does not stop the Royal. As your representative to the Royal MacPherson Theatre Society Board (RMTS) (Oak Bay is a funding contributor), it was a privilege to go “behind the scenes” with the Society’s Executive Director Lloyd Fitzsimonds.
The Royal Theatre has been a constant, a place full of memories. From children’s pantomime theatre, to concert pianist Arthur Rubenstein, tenor Jan Pearce, Walt Disney’s movie Snow White and bass Ivan Rebroff, and from Dan Hill, Natalie Cole, Jan Aarden, Tony Bennett, to Victoria’s symphony orchestra and opera, the Royal has been one of Victoria’s leading entertainment venues for generations, hosting scores of events and famous people.
Facts about the Royal Theatre that you may not know:
- Built in 1913, it had eight owners between 1913 and 1945, all of whom went broke.
- Underwent two major renovations in 1988 and 2002.
- Bought in 1945 by Famous Players Theatres.
- Sold by Famous Players in 1972 to the City of Victoria and Municipalities of Esquimalt, Oak Bay and Saanich (they partnered to save the Royal).
- One of only five theatres left in Canada that still has loge seating.
- Built to hold about 1,400 patrons.
- Last theatre in Canada to use sandbags in the fly tower (area on either side off-stage) to counter balance stage scenery.
- Only theatre in Canada and possibly North America, that suspends a 3,000 lb. Steinway Grand Piano high above the stage floor on a platform because of storage limitations.
- Currently funded through proportionate contributions from three municipal partners (Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay).
I learned that the fly tower, the area behind and to the left and right of the stage, uses sailing terminology to describe various mechanics. This is because when the Royal Theatre was being constructed in 1913, at the same time, the wooden ship-building industry was dying. Unemployed shipwrights, carpenters, deckhands and others associated with ship-building, flocked to Victoria looking for work, with many of them employed to build the Royal Theatre.
I was impressed with Lloyd and his small staff who keep the Royal running and looking its best. Lloyd is passionate and committed about his work and the theatre and epitomizes the phrase “love what you do and do what you love.”
As the tour wound up, I felt as though we had only scratched the surface of this remarkable building, a theatre that provides a vital regional service to the arts.
To end this on a bit of whimsy, Lloyd and his staff decorated, with a single star, the dressing room door that houses the very famous when they play the Royal, the same star that appears on Muppeteer Miss Piggy’s dressing room door.