Montreal’s Segal Centre for the Performing Arts plans a $6.5 million facelift to woo audiences back to the theatre

Standing outside the Segal Centre for Performing Arts are general manager Jon Rondeau, president Sylvi Plante, Emmelle Segal, artistic and executive director Lisa Rubin, and MP Anthony Housefather. (Credit: Leslie Schachter)

The Segal Centre for Performing Arts will undergo a major renovation with support from the federal and Quebec governments totaling nearly $6.1 million.

Ottawa is contributing the lion’s share: $4.4 million with the announcement by Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather that the government is adding over $4.2 million to the $233,500 previously given to the Segal for what are described as pressing repairs.

The work will be carried out over the coming year.

Up to $1.6 million will put in by the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications.

The remainder of the $6.5 million the renovation is projected to cost is coming from donations to the Segal Centre’s capital campaign.

Housefather made public his government’s multi-million-dollar infusion on June 20 at the centre on behalf of Ginette Petitpas Taylor, minister of official languages.

“The Segal Centre in my riding is the heart of the Montreal theatre scene,” he said. “It provides joy and entertainment to tens of thousands of people every year, offering new and innovative programming on a continual basis. In order for venues like the Segal Centre to succeed, they need to have an accessible and sound building.”

The 56-year-old building in the heart of the Jewish Community Campus houses the 300-seat Sylvan Adams Theatre and the Studio for smaller productions, as well as an academy for performing arts for children and a lower-level lounge/art gallery used for various functions.

Sylvi Plante, president of the Segal’s board of directors, said the renovations will focus on improving accessibility and being more environmentally responsible. The goal, she said, is “to create a more sustainable and welcoming space to benefit patrons of all abilities, such as fixing the outdoor ramp, adding an elevator to the basement venues, and upgrading the restrooms.”

Plans also include a facelift for the main stage, the first on this scale in over 35 years that will see new seating and flooring as well as sound and lighting equipment, installed.

Plante said there will be no changes to the exterior of the building, which was designed by Phyllis Lambert, daughter of Saidye Bronfman for whom the centre was originally named. It was donated to the community in 1967 by her four children in recognition of her long patronage of the arts.

In 2007, as the Bronfman family wound down its involvement, the centre was renamed for the new chief benefactor, Alvin Segal, who died last November. The building also became a Federation CJA agency. After that shakeup, the centre underwent a complete redesign of its interior.

The Segal Centre is the second-largest English-language theatre in Montreal, after the Centaur Theatre. It is also home to the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre and a venue for many smaller local performance companies.

Like all live entertainment providers, the Segal Centre struggled through more than two years of full or partial closure during COVID, and has been working hard to bring back audiences. It has been greatly helped to carry on by an endowment set up by Alvin Segal.

Director of development Alexandra Yanofsky noted that less than a third of the Segal’s revenue comes from ticket sales and government, and the rest must be raised privately.

The work will be done in phases starting this summer, to be completed by next summer, Plante said. Normal operations are to be maintained throughout the coming 2023-2024 theatre season, although some work may affect parking or access to the building during show times.

As was the case for the current season, the Segal’s subscription next season is limited to four plays, whereas in pre-pandemic times there were five and even six productions. Like this year, there will be no mid-winter performances.

The season opens in October with the Broadway hit Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, co-produced with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, followed by Boy Falls From the Sky, inspired by Toronto-based actor Jake Epstein’s struggles to make it on the Great White Way. This is a Talk is Free Theatre production.

In March, the season resumes with Fifteen Dogs, an adaptation of André Alexis’s Giller Prize-winning novel, co-produced with Crow’s Theatre of Toronto. The season closes next spring with another popular Broadway show, POTUS, Or Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, described as a political dark comedy in which the President’s female aides go into frantic damage control after his blunder of global proportions.

Written by Los Angeles-based Selina Fillinger, this Segal production will be directed by Lisa Rubin, the centre’s artistic and executive director.

The ingredients are seven badass women, jaw-dropping performances, non-stop laughter, gutsy and shocking content,” said Rubin. “The result is a recipe for the most buzz-worthy show of our season. Not for the faint of heart. This play pulls no punches.”

Perhaps as one more incentive to get seats filled, the Segal is allowing drinks to be consumed in the theatre this coming season. In addition, it has introduced a season pass which allows subscribers to use their tickets whenever they want. Those under 30 can buy individual tickets for the significantly reduced rate of $30 each.