Lieutenant Governor Frank Lewis, left, Dianne Anderson, Prince of Wales College alumna; Marion Reid, PWC alumna, and Holland College President Dr. Brian McMillan, raise a toast to the newly opened Florence Simmons Performance Hall Thursday night. The hall is located in what was the college's former gymnasium in its Prince of Wales Campus and was officially opened during a gala. Anderson graduated from PWC in 1969, which was the only graduating class that received degrees because until that year the college had been unable to grant degrees. Reid graduated in 1944.
©THE GUARDIAN/Brian McInnis
Hall is located in college's former gymnasium at Prince of Wales Campus in downtown Charlottetown
The possibilities are seemingly endless for students in Holland College’s school of performing arts, a partnership with Confederation Centre of the Arts.
The students now have a professional venue to call their own, the Florence Simmons Performance Hall. The venue will provide space for students to practice, perform and stage their productions.
It features all of the lighting and sound requirements befitting a theatre, but the contractors worked to retain the distinguishing architectural features. The molding and trim were saved, and the large windows and curved ceiling that have always been a feature are now emphasized.
The result is a modernized and practical space for performing that preserves its historic features.
“It was kind of a natural fit to be converted to a theatre,” said Holland College facilities manager Heather Mader.
"The renovation has turned it into a beautiful space,” said Mader. “It’s very elegant, and that’s what we were all hoping for. I think everyone involved in this project is pleased with the outcome.”
Dance and theatre instructor Peggy Reddin said the new building shows the college’s deep commitment toward students.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to have more performance options available to them. It’s a space intended for their use,” she said. “Even if they want to mount their own productions, that door is now open for them. It’s a lot more expensive when you’re renting a hall.”
Music Performance instructor Alan Dowling said that in the past, renting space to perform was a necessity. Apart from financial costs, Dowling said. renting a venue also presented some hidden challenges.
“If we’re going into night clubs or renting theatre space, we’re only able to walk in the day of the show. There’s no time for a rehearsal in the venue,” he said.
The hall not only gives students their own location, but also boasts upgraded sound and lighting systems along with a sprung stage about double its previous size.
“We’re able to not only use the stage for our shows at the end of every semester but we have time every week where students can practice,” he said. “While it definitely has a benefit to our students, it’s also a great addition for the community. There seems to be a demand for a theatre of that size.”
Dowling said the hall will also allow provide artists from other parts of the country with an excellent venue for more intimate shows. He said he’s been looking forward to seeing the completion of a professional venue since the school of performing arts’ inception five years ago.
Dowling said the venue has already received praise from students, faculty members and visitors, and he expects it will help attract new students to the program.
“Everybody’s jaw drops when they walk in,” he said. ”When our students first got to rehearse there, they were so excited to be on a beautiful stage like that.”
“It’s such a beautiful hall and we’re really looking forward to using it optimally and getting the most out of it,” she said. “It really does indicate a deep commitment on the college’s part to the program and that is really satisfying.”