Young People’s Theatre Unveils $13.5 Million Renovation

With three significant openings in as many days, the week of September 19th already felt like a major one for Toronto theatre — there was a “we’re back, baby” feeling in the air, along with some early autumn crispness. That feeling was cemented with the unveiling of a fresh new face for a venerable performing arts institution: Young People’s Theatre (YPT)’s $13.5 million Room for Imagination renovation project. 

The theatre’s leadership revealed the renovations at a gathering on September 22 attended by funders, members of the press, and the theatre’s staff. Artistic director Herbie Barnes described the project as a way to “bring back joy” for young people after the pandemic, while YPT board co-chair David Scandiffo paid particular homage to the organization’s executive director Nancy Webster, who shepherded the renovation project from idea to completion over more than 10 years. 

Actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee was visibly moved as he stood on stage between his two sons, Noah and Miles, and recounted the many ways in which YPT has shaped his life: from viewing a YPT production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth when he was young to performing with the company early in his career, meeting his wife there, and now seeing Noah and Miles join the tradition as students in YPT’s drama programs. 

The renovations in YPT’s existing building on Front Street include a doubling in size of lobby space on the ground and first floors; many new accessibility enhancements in both front-of-house (including accessible box office and concession stations and additional physical accessibility in the orchestra section of the Mainstage) and backstage spaces (barrier-free features in dressing rooms); new workshops for props, set-building, and scenic painting; and upgraded theatrical equipment. 

YPT has also bought 12,000 feet of space across the street at 161 Frederick Street (some of which it previously leased): this will now house YPT’s education initiatives, community programming, and drama school. A rehearsal hall that matches the size of YPT’s mainstage, three accessible studio/classrooms, and a costume shop with natural light are among the features of this newly renovated space. 

Between productions and education programs, YPT serves 150,000 young people a year, and is Toronto’s oldest professional theatre company. Its 2022-23 season launches on October 6 with Eric Coates’s production of Barnes’s play Bentboy. More information about YPT’s season, education programs, and facilities is available here.

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Written By

Karen Fricker is a theatre critic at the Toronto Star, editorial advisor for Intermission magazine, adjunct professor of Dramatic Arts at Brock University, and a member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association. She previously worked as a critic in London, UK; Dublin, Ireland; and New York City, and has a PhD in theatre studies from Trinity College, Dublin. Her book The Original Stage Productions of Robert Lepage: Making Theatre Global (Manchester University Press) was the winner of the 2022 Canadian Association for Theatre Research’s Ann Saddlemyer Award for the best book in English on a Canadian topic. Her research interests also include contemporary circus and the changing nature of theatre criticism in the digital age.