By Brenlee Coates (concert photos by Dwayne Larson)
The Park Theatre has been the Madonna of theatres in the building’s 100-year history – constantly reinventing itself.
Even in a decade’s time under current ownership, it’s undergone many looks and changes. “We had DVD rentals. We had coffee. We had desserts. And for a little while we had a kitchen area,” says owner Erick Casselman.
When DVDs became outdated, and the dining function never took off, the Park decided to concentrate on what it did best: hosting live entertainment. “It actually allowed me to focus on what our strength was, which was live music and live comedy and events,” says Casselman. “Everybody that works here has the same idea of what this place could be.”
The singular vision has paid off: Park Theatre recently won the Western Canadian Music Award for Venue of the Year. On top of hosting diverse musicians both locally and internationally, plus being a hub for comedy and community events, the Park Theatre creates its own signature programming. “Those are really key to me – because those are ones we’re developing,” says Casselman. “If you’re not doing stuff with your community – what’s the point?”
In August, the Park will debut a brand-new festival in its South Osborne neighbourhood. “It’s a street festival of sorts, taking place in six places on the street within a two-block radius of the Park,” says Casselman. “I’ve always loved this neighbourhood… We’re in the best community.”
The Park is also partial to the local music scene, with friends across every realm, and musicians occasionally moonlighting at its venue.
Wanting to continue to help foster newcomers, Casselman and a couple partners are looking at starting a separate venue, which will have an even more intimate feel for developing artists. “Watching people grow and watching them come into themselves… it’s the best,” says Casselman. “Right now, I think we’re seeing some of the most talented, who should be widely recognized, artists come out.”
While the music scene in Winnipeg seems to be hitting its groove, the same could be said of the Park. Shedding its retro diner look, and ditching some old functions, the Park now has a chic lounge to greet you in its holding area, before entering the completely made-over stage and theatre. Without a kitchen function, the Park makes deals with neighbouring restaurants to provide limited menus to the space.
Setting the stage for success
Above all, it’s a great place to catch a show. Many local musicians count the Park as a favourite. “Bands are one of the most important parts of our business,” says Casselman. “We have sound equipment that’s the best.
“We try to make the backstage, the stage, and the room as comfortable as possible for them.”
The same goes for patrons. “I’m always gauging the audience. ‘How can we make this a little more friendly? How can we make everyone a little more comfortable?’
“There’s still lots that can be fine-tuned,” says Casselman.
In 100 years, there’s been a lot of tweaking to the space. “It’s just always been a slow transition to what it is now,” explains Casselman. “Going from vaudeville, to black and white (cinema), to colour, to then second-run movies… to sitting empty for a few years (before we got it),” he says.
Casselman doubles as the CEO and head talent buyer at the Park, but with programming over 300 days a year, they’re open to hosting events from weddings, private parties, socials and craft sales, to many music styles and performances. “It’s really about it being your space,” says Casselman. “Diversity’s always been our agenda.
“We’re going to make you feel comfortable and welcome, because we’re thankful that you’re here.”
Visit http://www.myparktheatre.com for upcoming events and ticket information.