By Molly Cone

As dusk approaches, a towering, dazzling sign visible from every angle on Broadway Avenue beckons the crowd. Guests flood through the bright blue doors into the lobby where they can grab a bag of popcorn or a glass of wine to take the Monday edge off. Ticket in hand, the audience carefully scans the rows of burgundy seats to locate their spot for the near sold-out show. The staff takes care of any last-minute tasks, as the audience waits in quiet anticipation.

It was March 2, 2020. No audience member, staff, volunteer, or performer could have known that when Molly Sarlé and headliner Andy Shauf left the stage, it would be the last normal and ‘full’ performance the Broadway Theatre would host for more than a year —  and counting. 

Arts, culture and community: Since 1946, those are the three words that guide everything the 100% community owned, and operated theatre represents. “We could not have existed or been successful at all if we stayed a one, or even three-trick pony,” says Kirby Wirchenko, the artistic and executive director of the theatre. 

Kirby Wirchenko, the artistic and executive director of the Broadway Theatre (Molly Cone/T•)

Aiden McRorie was introduced to the versatility of the Broadway in her first week on the job over two years ago. In the span of a week, she worked a live show with Steven Page, formerly of  the Barenaked Ladies, scooped popcorn for a niche movie night, witnessed a full-house podcast taping, and a few days later saw a dance troupe come through. 

Today, McRorie is the office manager and community outreach co-ordinator. She works on finding acts, especially those from Saskatchewan. “We are known to be this uplifting platform and bring light to people who might not be as known yet,” McRorie says.

Performing almost every genre of music out there for more than 30 years, Heidi Munro was raised on rock and roll, with music always playing in her parents’  home in rural Kennedy, Sask. 

One of her most prized performances took place in 2019. She produced and performed “Back to Black – The Passion of Amy Winehouse.” After putting together her “cream of the crop” band made up of many Saskatchewan artists, the sold-out show was a huge success ending with a roaring standing ovation

Heidi Munro performing on the Broadway Theatre stage. Courtesy of Heidi Munro (Taken by Nicole Belhumeur)

“It has a very special vibe in that room. You feel the history in it. It’s an honour to be a part of that as an artist,” Munro says. 

 An encore performance of Munro’s show was scheduled for spring of 2020, but it remains on hold. 

Alexis Normand and her band Rosie and the Riveters have performed many times on the Broadway stage, a few merely as opening acts for bigger names. This gave her band an opportunity to attract a larger audience in their hometown. “Soulful and seductive, like the beckoning prairie breeze” is how the artist’s biography describes Normand’s voice, whether she is performing in English or French. 

A diverse range of acts is what the theatre promises nightly to its fans. “Someone in the community needs the space to be something for them,” Wirchenko says. 

This includes Tyler Baptist, who started renting the theatre to show older horror movies at midnight. From 2008 to 2014, he screened more than 80 flicks, including classics like  Jaws and The Shining, to lesser-known films like Vampyres and Flesh Gordon. Each screening had a mix of newbies and at the core, die-hard fans who would attend every movie he presented.  

The theatre’s interior features a full stage with a large movie screen at the back and seating for more than 400 guests. All the glitz and glam is only a small part of what makes the Broadway Saskatoon’s premiere place for performances.

“If people have memories in our building, it’s because of an awesome first date, or the funniest comedy show, or their niece got married there. That’s how you build memories, by giving people things that make meaning,” Wirchenko adds.

For the 16 years he lived in Saskatoon, Brad Proudlove has been within blocks of the theatre. He spent many days and nights heading to the Broadway,  grabbing his fresh cup of McQuarries coffee in an authentic ceramic mug and, prior to the fancy seats, Proudlove sifted through a box full of cushions that “hundreds of random asses” had lounged on. He would place the cushion on a seat in the front row, offering optimal leg room and a perfect view of the screen or stage. It did not matter what or who was playing at the Broadway for Proudlove to attend. 

Proudlove has marked many of life’s milestones there. He recalls as a kid, coming into the big city from rural Eston, Sask., with his “cool aunt” to see matinee screenings of classics like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He checked an item off his bucket list when the documentary he filmed and edited was screened to a packed audience. His first date with his now-wife Colleen was a screening of a Steven Soderbergh movie at the Broadway. Years later, he watched his daughter’s Christmas and year-end school concerts on the very stage where he has seen so many talented acts before.

Many of Broadway Theatre’s fondest memories came before the last regular show in March 2020. Like many elements of life, things are different now.

Jeff Rogstad performs professionally every day as a weatherman on CTV Saskatoon. A member of the Saskatoon Soaps Improv Comedy for more than 20 years, he guesses he has performed around 400 times with the group at the Broadway.

Rogstad (centre front) with a few members of the Saskatoon Soaps pose at the Broadway Theatre for their September, 2020 show. (Courtesy of Jeff Rogstad)

On Sept.25, 2020, the troupe gave a special performance. With COVID-19 counts low, Broadway hosted local acts for a minimal, masked and distanced audience. It presented challenges and can seem a little lonely to be spread out. “Laughter is a contagious thing and works best when people are close together,” Rogstad says.

No one truly knows when laughter and applause will run rampant again at the Broadway.

A note from the staff and board in April 2021 says the venue remains closed for all public events.  The empty Broadway Theatre chimes with memories of its last big crowd. It stands silently, longing for the seats to be full, the lights to shine, and the curtain to rise again