By Jake Scott, Sierra Bein and Jackie Hong
The Ryerson Theatre School (RTS) will be moving out of its structurally troubled home on 44/46 Gerrard St. E. by the end of the school year and will start a five-year-long search for a new permanent building.
“I’ve been at the school for 20 years. We have been talking about needing a new building. The writing has been on the wall for a long, long, long, long time,” acting program director Cynthia Ashperger said. “It’s a really old building and we have used it the best we could. It’s just not functional anymore.”
The RTS building has been notorious for its infrastructure problems since the theatre programs moved in in the 1970s. But the aged, former pharmacy college, wasn’t a perfect fit for theatre from day one.
“We already started with a building that was not meant to be a theatre school,” said Peter Fleming, production and operations manager at RTS.
It’s home to Ryerson’s three performance programs — dance, acting and production — which, in total, account for just under 500 students. The school was originally housed in 101 Gerrard St. E. (now the Co-operative Education building) until the demand for the programs saw the school move to its current location.
Fleming said he is relieved that the school is finally looking into other options because they’ve not been able to make progress with renovations.
“We have dance studios that have pillars in them, we have all kinds of issues with dressing rooms that don’t have running water in them because the building’s so old,” he said.
Ryerson President Sheldon Levy said it was about time that RTS was moved.
“I think, ‘Why did it take us so long?’ would be a better question.
Everyone there has been very, very patient … There is always problems with that building, whether it’s water problems or termite problems,” Levy said. “That building can’t last another 25 years.”
Until the search for a new permanent location for the school is finished, the programs will be housed in yet-to-be-determined temporary locations. Levy said the school hopes to announce a solution within two to three weeks.
“We’re looking at a lot of options at the moment,” Levy said.
“We’re very confident that we’ll find things for the students but nothing has yet been decided.” A team has now been put together and tasked with finding both temporary and permanent homes for the theatre programs, said Gerd Hauck, dean of the Faculty of Communication And Design.
He recently informed students of the “Working Group,” a committee whose members include campus experts in space planning, real estate, theatre and Hauck himself.
Once the group decides on a temporary solution, they can begin to work on its five-year plan.
“It is a group of 11 people, the strategy is again to have this done as expeditiously as possible,” said Hauck.
He said that the transition period won’t have a negative impact on enrolment in RTS.
“We have a large number of applicants in the theatre school. Something close to 900 applicants last year, we only took 29 of them for the acting program,” Hauck said. “In fact, I think it might benefit the number of applicants. The school is going to be in a new building a few years down the road.”
Fleming, who is also on the committee, said that he is excited for the change because it will benefit all theatre students, now and in the future.
“We used to have 20 dancers in our dance studios and we now have 45 dancers in our dance studios, so our enrolment has grown but the space has not,” he said.
“It’s just a perfect time to get more space to grow. If we ever wanted to go into a graduate program then there’s adding more students. There’s all kinds of things in the future that I’m sure the university is looking at.”
Some theatre students said they are concerned about the move because the university still doesn’t know details about where they’ll be relocated.
“We are leaving the theatre school, we are getting a new building. We don’t know what it is, we don’t know where we’re going in the meantime,” said Kennedy Brooks, a third-year production student.
Although Brooks agrees that the school has issues and students need a functional building, she said that she wants more information.
“Staff didn’t know what was happening, students didn’t know what was happening.”
First-year dance student Kaylie Strela said she hasn’t run into any major problems with the RTS building yet besides the posts in the dance studios, but would welcome a move if it means access to better facilities.
“If it’s a newer space, more modern, I think it’d be better … A bigger change room, more washrooms,” she said.
Taryn Na, a fourth-year dance student, said the move is long overdue and that even though she will have completed her degree by the time the move happens, the change will be good for future students.
“I think it’s fantastic. I mean, it’s about time. As dance students we like space and need space, so a new facility would be fantastic,” she said. “It would definitely be a positive change.”
The fate of the building after the theatre programs move out hasn’t been determined yet and its status as a historical site may limit what Ryerson can do with it. The building, which originally belonged to the Ontario College of Pharmacy, first opened in 1887 and contained state-of-the-art lecture halls and science labs. It became a part of the University of Toronto’s School of Pharmacy in 1953, which eventually moved out in 1963. Ryerson was deeded the building in 1966.
A breakdown of the ways the theatre school building is breaking down
The plague of pests
The wood-eating bastards have been eating away at the school’s structure. The Theatre School first reported termite damage to the west wall of room 101 in September 2010, but by February 2011, nothing had been done to address the problem. According to an Eyeopener report, one staff member emailed jokingly at the time that, if action is not taken soon, the university “might need to build a new theatre school.”
Floods down under
The most recent and serious cases of water getting where it shouldn’t be happened in July 2013, when a heavy rainstorm flooded three of the rooms in the Theatre School’s basement (the termites were still eating away at the school too, by the way). And since we’re talking about the basement, production students said the basement requires a key to access, which is all fine and dandy if it weren’t for the absolutely fucking terrifying fact that the door can lock behind you and trap you inside.
The three-storey school has no elevators, ramps or automatic doors, which poses an accessibility problem for some people with physical disabilities or injuries and makes transporting props and equipment between floors a giant pain in the ass. Last year, The Eyeopener talked to some students who had to haul a heavy metal bed up several flights of stairs and who probably would’ve been crushed to death if they dropped it.