Remember how the Park Theatre’s café and music venue had a feel similar to a 50s diner? Recent major renovations have left it starkly different. The old feel is but a distant memory.
The once 700-seat movie theatre now looks like a classy music venue – and one that’s not only popular in Winnipeg, but gaining national status as well. It was nominated in 2012 and 2013 for ‘Best Venue’ at the Western Canadian Music Awards.
Many local musicians have been around long enough to witness its history, such as Carson Mauthe, member of punk band Perception Check. “The Park Theatre has been a part of my life for a long time since my first band, Against Belief, played there when I was 16,” he says. “Since then I’ve played a fair share of shows there, gone to many of their events, including (live soap opera) Soapscumm almost every time it’s on, and the experience has always been good.”
As a music venue, the Park Theatre is still young. Current owner Erick Casselman only bought it eight years ago.
“He’s slowly, bit by bit, changed it into what it is,” says the Park’s booker/designer and promoter Kevin Mozdzen.
The building still holds some of that old theatre charm, with a grand marquee on the outside, and a concession-to-theatre layout on the inside.
Adam Fuhr of local band Yes We Mystic has played multiple shows there, including the band’s EP release. “It’s a great place to play just because it used to be a movie theatre and I think that really helps command attention to the stage,” he says. “[In a bar] people are focused on their conversation or getting a drink, but there it always feels like the band is the focal point.”
Almost all of the original seating in the theatre has been taken out, leaving a much larger area in front of the stage where people can dance and enjoy shows up-close. “Luxury benches” now line the outer perimeters of both the theatre and lounge, for those who like to sit back and enjoy a show.
For Mauthe, the change may take some getting used to, but overall it’s a positive thing.
“I will admit that I’m still pretty nostalgic about the ketchup coloured booths and the untouched movie rental section,” he says. “However, the new renovations make the place look a lot nicer. Nobody comes in to the Park to sit down and eat, nobody rents movies anymore, and moving the cashier towards the far end closest to the theatre means you don’t need to walk that extra five meters to get another drink. Brilliant!”
Published in Volume 68, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 15, 2014)