About the Theatre
In 1911 Virden was Manitoba’s ninth largest centre. After being incorporated into a town in 1904, the existing local government offices were felt to be inadequate for a population of 1500. In May, 1911, it was decided by the Virden Town Council to construct municipal and civic offices, a court room and a large opera house on a site adjacent to the existing fire hall on Wellington Street.
The Auditorium (as the complex came to be known) was designed by W.A. Elliott, an architect responsible for many designs in south western Manitoba including the Brandon Central Fire Hall and the Brandon Mental Hospital. The contractor for the Auditorium was W.T. Manser, Virden’s foremost builder at that time.
The structure which cost $32,219.00 was begun in July 1911 and opened to the public on February 29, 1912. The first dramatic production, a comedy, “the Misogynist” was performed on opening night by the Virden Dramatic Society to a full house. On March 7, 1912 a touring company, The Allen Players, presented the first professional production, Tolstoy’s “Resurrection” in the new theatre.
The Auditorium has two levels and originally sat 500 people. Over the years alterations to the theatre such as a movie projection booth and sound booth have reduced the seating capacity. Recently the projection booth was removed and replaced with seating to give the Aud a seating capacity of 501. The main floor dimensions are 94.75 feet by 47 feet and it is divided into three sections with 247 seats. The balcony is divided into lower and upper sections and holds 254 seats. The seats were ordered from a Chicago manufacturer and each row is decorated with cast iron scroll work. The majestic curve of the balcony gives the audience a panoramic view of the stage. On either side of the stage are two double decker boxes or loges which add an air of sophistication to the otherwise utilitarian design of the theatre.
The stage features a massive Proscenium arch 28 feet by 23 feet high which outlines the performing area. The curtain 22 feet by 30 feet was painted by the Great Eastern Scene Painting Company of Toronto and represents an exotic Mediterranean scene reminiscent of Venice. The performing area is 47.5 feet by 26 feet. High above the stage (approximately 43 feet) are two large wooden trusses from which scene curtains and other paraphernalia were suspended. (Known as the Fly Gallery), it is now closed by a false ceiling over the stage.
When it was erected in 1911-12 it was one of the last Opera Houses of its type to be built in Manitoba. With its outstanding acoustics and classical style, it has been recognized as one of the best concert halls of its size in Western Canada. The Auditorium was converted to a movie theatre in the 1920’s with a block of seating removed and replaced with a projection booth. It continued to be the social and cultural centre for Virden and area until the 1980’s when it fell into disrepair and was closed.
When the Aud was threatened with demolition (the 1895 Fire Hall adjacent to the theatre was demolished in 1981), a group of local citizens formed a “Save the Aud” committee and raised over $80,000 for its restoration through an appeal to area residents, organizations and former Virdenites. The fact that the funds were raised within a short period of time is a testimonial to the community’s emotional attachment to the Auditorium. A restoration committee was struck and it saw to the renovation of the theatre. The Auditorium Theatre reopened in 1983.
In the initial renovation the roof over the stage was repaired, general redecoration of the interior was completed and damaged seats in the upper balcony were replaced. A sophisticated fire alarm system was installed; stage curtains along with new draperies of specially woven fireproof velvet and railings were installed in the loge area. The lighting and audio systems were also upgraded. Additionally, an electric heating system was installed, carpets were replaced, washrooms were added to the back stage area and a new electronic lighting panel was installed.
During the past 30 years the Aud Board has undertaken numerous projects with the aim of improving the theatre. The original seats have been reupholstered, the lobby has been extensively renovated, the lighting and sound systems have been upgraded, more seating has been added to the upper balcony, new curtains have been installed on the stage, and the back stage area improved to act as a screen for video projectors located on stage. Finally in early 2012 the Aud underwent a major face lift of the interior just in time to celebrate its centenary.
On February 29, 2012 the Aud celebrated its 100th birthday with many tributes from the community and a Big Band concert performed by the Canadian Air Force band 17 Wing Winnipeg. In its second century of operation, the Aud shows no sign of slowing down.
The Virden Auditorium will continue to be the entertainment centre for future generations of Virden and area residents. Whether it is the Music and Arts Festival, a dramatic production, a musical or a school Christmas Concert, young and old alike will have the opportunity to “trod the boards” or be an enthusiastic spectator in the Aud Theatre. Either way it will be a treat.
The Auditorium Theatre is a testament to those who fought to preserve it, a privilege to those who have the opportunity to perform in it and a treasure to the people of Virden and are who attend performances in it.