Showplace Performance Centre in downtown Peterborough is looking for help from local residents to find over 200 people who purchased naming rights for the theatre’s original seats when the performance venue first opened in 1996.
Over 25 years ago, a dedicated group of Peterborough residents formed ‘The Committee for the Performing Arts’, with a mission to create a much-needed performing arts centre in Peterborough.
The committee did much work, including securing vital funds during a recession, which led the eventual acquisition and renovation of the building at 290 George Street North — which was originally built as the Odeon movie theatre in 1947 — and the incorporation of Showplace Performance Centre as a non-profit organization.
In one of many fundraising campaigns required to make Showplace a reality, the founding board of directors invited members of the community to ‘purchase’ theatre seats by making a donation and submitting a name to be mounted on each seat.
“In the original seat naming, we decided to form a club and we called it 626,” says Beth McMaster, founding chair of the Showplace board. “This was even before the theatre was built and we thought there were going to be 626 seats in it. As it turned out, there were closer to 650.”
Fast forward to 2019, when Showplace began a fundraising campaign for much-needed renovations, including the marquee, technical equipment, improved accessibility infrastructure, and replacing the aging seats in the main theatre.
Although the fundraising campaign was paused when the pandemic forced the venue into survival mode, Showplace has resumed a scaled-back version focused on replacing the seats in the Erica Cherney Theatre, which were originally purchased second-hand from the Annapolis Naval Academy in Maryland in 1996.
Like the original seat-naming campaign from the mid-1990s, ‘Take a Seat for Act II’ will give Showplace supporters the opportunity to purchase naming rights for the new seats, with the name of the donor engraved on a placard and mounted on the seats.
However, before opening the seat-naming campaign to the general public, Showplace’s board wants to give the original ‘Club 626’ donors the first right of refusal to re-purchase their seats at a discounted price.
“We are going to re-sell the seats to people who originally bought them 25 years ago, if they want them,” says Pat Hooper, former board chair.
“In fairness to those people, we’re offering the seats for the same price they paid 25 years ago — $626 — with a charitable tax receipt of course,” she explains. “The problem is trying to find these people. We have biographical information, but we don’t have any contact information.”
As such, what began solely as a fundraising initiative has now also become an archival project.
“It’s been a real trip down memory lane,” says McMaster, who has hand-written personal notes to each of the 75 seat-holders or their descendants who have been successfully located so far.
“We’re hoping to get the word out to the public so the community might be able to provide us with information to help us find over 200 people,” Hooper adds. “If you or someone you know bought a seat 25 years ago, we’d love to hear from you.”
“Even if you’re not in a position to re-purchase a seat, please reach out. We will continue to honor the original Club 626 seat-holders. We will still retain that history in some form.”
Peterborough native Dave Carley, an award-winning playwright now living in Toronto, will be re-naming seats for both of his parents, original members of Club 626, as well as himself.
“One thing I’ve learned about theatres, in my career as a playwright, is that if an audience isn’t physically comfortable, they won’t be able to focus on what I’ve written on stage, so I have a really strong interest in good seating,” Carley says.
“Showplace is a wonderful venue. I’ve had two of my plays put on there by New Stages. Also, when it comes to good causes, Beth McMaster is the most charming pickpocket there is,” Carley laughs, adding “she’s a woman you can’t say no to.”
Sadly, some of the original Club 626 seat-holders are no longer with us but their legacies live on. In a sense, the torch has been passed down to the next generation to continue the important philanthropic work these dedicated community members started over 25 years ago.
That includes Erica Cherney, the late well-respected Peterborough businesswoman and community supporter after whom Showplace’s main theatre is now named, whose son Michael is taking up the torch.
“She and Beth McMaster and a bunch of other people spearheaded putting together Showplace and, against all odds, they succeeded,” Cherney recalls. “As a member of the next generation, I am excited and pleased to be involved in this fundraising campaign by renewing Mom’s purchase of seats.”
“I’m hoping that other supporters of Showplace and downtown Peterborough will join me in supporting this great cause, especially in light of what’s happened during COVID,” he adds.
‘Take a Seat for Act II’ is so much more than a fundraising campaign. In many ways, it closes a circle.
Against all odds, dedicated community members raised funds during a recession to establish Showplace over 25 years ago. Now, during a global pandemic that has devastated the arts sector, Showplace is calling on supporters to keep the non-profit performance centre going strong — to ensure the future holds many more live performances for us to enjoy together.
Showplace is presenting the original Club 626 members or their descendants with a poignantly unique opportunity to honour the past with a pledge for the future.
If you or somebody you know donated to name a seat 25 years ago, you can reach out to Showplace at 705-742-7469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.