New chair to oversee reopening of Astor Theatre

by Kevin Mcbain

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>John Simmonds is the new chair of the Astor Theatre Society Board of Directors.</p>

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After almost seven months of remaining closed, the doors of Liverpool's iconic Astor Theatre will soon swing open.

According to John Simmonds, the newly elected chair for the Astor Theatre's Board of Directors, there are plans to host a mayoral debate in early October, which may be the first event of the season. This will soon be followed by Chase the Ace events and movies.

Simmonds was elected as the board's new chair at its annual meeting September 14.

"I'm happy to do it. It is an honour for me," said the retired insurance broker, noting that he has been on the board for about the past year.

Simmonds takes over for Kristopher Snarby, who is devoting more time to his real estate business.

Vice-chair is Rick Gilbert, treasurer is Colleen Wolfe and secretary is Susan Letson.

"We have an eclectic group comprised of several with business and financial experience, several with acting and production and live theatre experience and several with long histories in the region and its happenings," explained Simmonds.

The board is also looking for a new general manager for the theatre after Sandy Nicholson completed his contract in early August. Jean Robinson-Dexter will be serving as the interim manager until one can be found.

Simmonds said he's looking forward to getting the Astor Theatre - the oldest performing arts centre in the province (circa 1902) - back in operation after its seven-month layoff.

Despite the hiatus, the Astor has weathered the storm more or less okay, according to Simmonds.

"We lost a lot of revenue, but the CERB funding and government assistance really helped, and our expenses went down significantly because the salaries were being subsidized. We also didn't have the expense of putting on productions," he said. "We were in a holding pattern and did it quite successfully."

The Astor Theatre Society was given full control of the building a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Prior to this, along with the theatre, the former town hall building previously housed an art gallery, gift shop and photography studio.

"We wanted to take over the building and resurrect it," said Simmonds. "We gave a presentation to the municipality and showed them our ideas and thoughts to expand the programming out of the building and to create a synergy among the arts community. They agreed."

The building continues to be owned by the Region of Queens Muncipality, but is rented and operated by the society.

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