Lindsay’s storied Academy Theatre is almost unrecognizable on Monday. Almost.
As I step into the construction zone, every seat in the orchestra section has been ripped from the floor to make way for new ones. There’s a fresh base of concrete to support the memories of a new generation of theatre and event goers.
But it’s still got that unmistakable Academy vibe. Although the air is thick with the stirred up dust of 125 years of memories, the workers’ voices are carried with perfect clarity – enviable acoustics that support the Academy’s reputation as the most technically perfect theatre in Canada.
Looking up at the frescoed ceiling, it’s hard not to reminisce – and to be a little worried about all the disruption. You see, about 21 years ago, as a young reporter for ‘Lindsay This Week,’ I slept in this theatre — all alone, and for the whole night.
I was there to sleep with Mary, the Academy’s famed ghost who draws paranormal seekers from far and wide.
The Mischievous Ghost
The story of Mary, as told on the Academy’s website and by others in town, is that long ago the theatre had three furnaces in the building, which needed to be fed coal constantly. This meant that a couple had to live in the theatre on the third floor, in an apartment.
According to legend, it is said that one day the wife was rushing down the stairs and lost her footing.
Sadly, her fall was fatal.
It is said to be her spirit that inhabits the theatre. Mary, who didn’t quite move on, is known to be a mischievous ghost who mysteriously moves things, then puts them back, lowers the lights or opens and closes doors.
So, 21 years ago, in the cavernous darkness of that theatre, I recall like it was yesterday the puny lights that were left on for me by Ray Marshall, the Academy’s then general manager.
I sat in utter darkness in one of the middle rows, in seat 13 – said to be her favourite — waiting for Mary to arrive.
I wondered if she was okay with me hanging out there when she was used to having the place to herself at night. With each creak in the walls and in the great ceiling above, with each shadow I saw flit across my line of sight, I also wondered if this was Mary moving around.
To my knowledge, I remain the only journalist to have ever spent a full night at the Academy.
Fast forward to today. Interim General Manager Don Hughes is busy overseeing workers who are soon going to be installing the new seats that have just arrived.
I ask him about Mary. Won’t she be upset with all the seats ripped out to make way for new ones?
“My personal view is that we’re not upsetting the spiritual energy of this building, the integrity of the Academy, when we’re simply trying to make improvements to it,” says Hughes.
“I think Mary will understand,” he says, given the theatre’s not being torn down or turned into something it was never meant to be.
The Academy Theatre will now be a 540-seat venue, a bit less than its 600 plus seats that it had in order to make way for larger seats, with more leg room, and more accessibility, given that people are bigger and taller now.
Still, it remains a large theatre for a town the size of Lindsay.
“We are a key player in the local economy,” says Hughes. “We have a large capacity for a community this size, and that gives us the ability to draw bigger name performers than some might expect.”
That includes country music sensation Brett Kissel, who is due to play Feb. 13 – a mere couple of weeks from now. It’s amazing, to this columnist, that all of this can be put back together in time to host a major show.
The Academy received $110,000 for the new seating from the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program. Hughes says they are at about $200,000 now and are looking for about $30,000 more.
The new seats have a similar look to the old ones, with red upholstery, curved backs, and a dark wood finish.
Hughes notes the Academy is like a “smaller Massey Hall,” Toronto’s storied theatre that has attracted acts from around the world. The Academy is even a year older.
Being a larger venue also helps the Academy draw crowds from Peterborough, the northern reaches of Kawartha Lakes, and from the Durham Region, according to the general manager.
I ask Hughes what his favourite thing about the Academy is, and he doesn’t hesitate.
“It’s the feel of that auditorium – it conveys such character,” he says.
“It has such great acoustics and sight lines — and performers recognize it right away when they walk into the building.”
None of that should change, once all the new seating is installed.
Let’s just hope Mary will also remain content with the Academy’s new and improved look, so that she — and the fine people who care for it — can continue to help this great community landmark thrive.