A Renovation 16 Years in the Making

Here at the Playhouse, we put a lot of energy into building visually striking sets and keeping our auditoriums and lobbies looking sharp for our audience. Most people don’t consider what things look like behind the scenes, but Bob Thomas isn’t most people.

Bob was the Chair of the Board in 2004 when the Firehall Theatre first opened. Due to SARS and the resulting financial setbacks, the finishing touches on the Firehall’s backstage area and dressing rooms were never completed. 16 years later, Bob has found a silver lining to TIP’s COVID-19 cancellations: he’s spearheading a matching campaign to renovate the dressing rooms to what he always imagined them to be.

(Bob Thomas standing backstage mid-renovation, July 2020)

As a long-time supporter of the arts, Bob is quick to acknowledge: “It’s something some board members will know — I’ve been nagging them for years for this.” Ever humble, Bob emphasized that there are far bigger donors at the Playhouse and he’s only falling in line with many other generous supporters over the years. He’s not looking for accolades, only for the “quiet satisfaction” of finally finishing the job.

He joined the board in 1997 and served as Board Chair from 2001 to 2006. During his tenure, Bob worked closely with founding Artistic Director Greg Wanless to acquire, renovate, and open the Firehall Theatre. Bob shared that “Greg always dreamed of growing, and the Firehall was an obvious target because of location and the size.” The building became available when Gananoque’s Emergency, Fire and Police Services, which called the building home, planned to move to larger accommodations.

In 2004, with sizable support from Canadian Heritage, the Playhouse team had only three months to convert the Firehall into a theatre space, lobby, and admin office. Unfortunately, the 2003 SARS outbreak took its toll on the company — including diminished ticket sales, especially from American patrons. That, and the need to rent and renovate a new rehearsal space resulted in the Firehall backstage never being completed as per plan.

(Various photos of the backstage area before construction started)

16 years later, it’s still a thorn in his side. But, not for long.

Bob’s donation campaign will match all donations up to $15,000. The $30,000 renovation is already underway, and will feature an expanded washroom with accessibility in mind. It also reconfigures the layout: expanding one of the two dressing rooms; building dedicated laundry facilities; relocating the stage management office upstairs; repurposing the old office for paint and prop storage; and turning TIP’s archives room into a meeting space. In addition to new floors, lighting, furniture, a stage door, and a fresh lick of paint, the walls of the backstage area will be fully insulated for winterization.

In response to Bob’s generosity, Brett Christopher said: “Once in a blue moon, an arts organization is blessed with a ‘super-volunteer’ like Bob Thomas. The time, consideration, and financial support that he has contributed over the last 20 years have been key to our growth and longevity as an organization. It is no surprise to me that, during this fallow period, he would step forward in support of building better facilities for the artists that work at TIP. I have the greatest admiration for Bob and look up to him (both figuratively and literally) as a mentor for my leadership of this company.”

(Bob outside the Firehall Theatre)

The Playhouse’s own production team (Brian Frommer, Mark Hunt, Dirk Ave, Jayne Christopher, and Nicole Groen) will do the heavy lifting on the renovation, which will highly subsidize the cost. The donated funds will be spent on materials and the contract work that’s needed.

As a participant in productions with Riverbank Productions of Gananoque in 2014-5, Bob became fully aware of the backstage deficiencies. He sees the renovation as “being of value in recruiting good performers” and as a sign of respect to artists. Bob’s goal is for the Playhouse to have a great reputation for high-quality productions and for our equally excellent backstage facilities.

While his pride for the Firehall Theatre is clear, so is his pragmatism. Bob emphasized that the renovations should be clean and comfortable, not lavish. “It doesn’t have to be a palace for Celine Dion.”


Click here to help support Bob’s campaign to renovate the Firehall Theatre dressing rooms. Every dollar up to $15,000 will be matched.

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