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Auditorium

Auditorium Today Auditorium Today
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Operetta Operetta
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The Auditorium was added to the Academy in 1910, during the Hooper Wing building campaign. The design was executed by Thomas Hooper in the Edwardian style. Named for King Edward of England, the Edwardian aesthetic was a simple version of the neo-classical architecture that had been adopted for the other wings at St. Ann's. Extending from the south of the 1910 wing, the auditorium projected out along the Blanshard Street side of the grounds; the exterior was decorated with subtle pilasters, a flattened version of the column form, that were also to be seen along the main fašade. A flat roof was chosen, in contrast to the Mansard design of the Hooper classroom addition. This added to the clean horizontal and vertical lines of the architecture.

Inside, the auditorium space was typical of theatre architecture. Almost 300 seats, made of wood and set in metal bases affixed to the floor, were the gift of the students of the Graduating Class of 1912.. A central block was flanked by shorter rows of chairs, with wide aisles in between. The floor was designed with a gentle slope, to provide the people sitting at the rear with a better view, but the students were often seated according to height, regardless.

Auditorium Audience Auditorium Audience
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Large windows with coloured art-glass panes were installed at the time of construction. The work is that of A.J. Roy, a local glazier with a shop on Yates Street. These windows were beautiful to look at, but allowed far too much light during afternoons when the Sisters attempted to show films for the pupils. Mr. Roy left his signature on the window over the main entrance, and when the craftspeople of Mercer and Schaefer Glass Studios completed the restoration of the glass work in the auditorium, they too followed the tradition of signing one of the windows.

The "flag gallery" above the stage was an area hidden from the audience, where costumes were stored and backstage work was done during performances. A projectionist's booth was built off the rear wall, over the entrance. This wooden platform could hold equipment such as film projectors. Although enclosed by a wooden railing, this booth was open to the audience and stage. There was very little in the way of a "backstage" area, but 10 music practice rooms were built behind the stage, on two levels.

The stage was, of course, the focal point of the auditorium. A proscenium arch was created above the stage space. This arch was the space between the curtain and the audience. At six metres wide, with an ornamental plaster frontispiece and set with lights, the arch was an attraction in itself. The stage and forestage were fitted with proper stage lighting, and behind that, a backdrop and wings in heavy velvet drapery awaited the opening of the curtains.

Castle Drop Curtains Castle Drop Curtains
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The original drop curtain for the auditorium stage was painted when the auditorium was built in 1910. The work was done by Sister Mary Osithe, "who, knowing Victoria to be essentially English in character, chose as her subject a typical English scene - Warwick Castle". (from essay by Rosette Lee, Grade 10, in The Aquinian, 1934) This castle was originally built by the Normans and rebuilt in the 14th century. Complete with swans and a moat, the mural-like painting was a fitting scene for the many dramatic productions put on by the people at St. Ann's.

Theatrical productions, plays, pageants, choir concerts, ballets, operettas and creative mixtures of the performing arts were the highlight in the education of many students at the Academy. The Sisters and students were renowned for these theatrical events. Every Christmas, a pageant was staged, with a Christmas theme, and a Nativity tableau, complete with stables and angels. Girls were selected to play Santa and Mrs. Claus. A special concert, in which the choir played a key role, was also planned. The girls would usually sing in their uniforms, but one year, one of the Sisters acquired the special red robes of the altar boys, adding a splash of colour and a festive spirit to the stage. Choir performances were very popular, and held often.

Auditorium Today Auditorium Today
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AAuditorium c.1955 Auditorium c.1955
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Many Sisters were talented seamstresses, and the students were taught needlework and sewing skills, so the costumes were often masterpieces. These clothes were stored in different parts of the school, starting above the stage, and in the attic, until there became so many that they were moved out into an old house built for laymen working at the Convent. There were ballerinas, Virgin Maries, of many shapes and sizes, Medieval garb and angels. If there was no sign of what a young director was seeking for her characters, new costumes were designed. Fabric, buttons, feathers and the like were recycled many times.

During the early 1950s, Dorothy Galvin, a young writer, scripted the play "Lady of the Lake", inspired by the study of the writing of Sir Walter Scott in the English programme. The Grade 7 class was sent to the auditorium to produce the show. The students recall that the Sisters "turned us loose into what we used to call the 'flag gallery', and all the costumes and everything." It was the girls who did the research, learned the lines, found the costumes, made the sets and did everything else associated with the production, almost all on their own. The play was a success, and "It was because the Sisters gave us the freedom." (S. Scott) Little Women, Joan of Arc and many other wonderful stories with an unusually high number of female roles required, were acted out on the auditorium stage.

There were many uses for the auditorium. Graduation ceremonies for St. Joseph's School of Nursing and St. Ann's students, visits by guest speakers and dignitaries, school assemblies and announcements and sodality meetings were just some of the events which took place under the proscenium arch. The boys of St. Louis College would often hold their performances in the auditorium, and it was also the place where the postings for Sisters leaving the Convent, for distant schools and hospitals, were read out.