On Monday February 12, Players’ Theatre was closed due to health and safety hazards from disturbed asbestos in the theatre. Cheyenne Cranston, the Events Coordinator of Players’, had been in the Theatre during an inspection when she was told that the Theatre was being shut down indefinitely and that she had to vacate the premises.
In a statement released on February 19, SSMU stated that the shutdown was due to a report that found that based on several samples around the SSMU building, there were dislodged particles containing asbestos in Room 309, the location of Players’ Theatre. Before Monday, the executive was completely unaware of these health and safety concerns and that their operational space could be shut down.
When the SSMU building shutdown was announced in September 2017, this was the first time that the Players’ exec had heard about it. The exec was immediately left to wonder not only where they would relocate, as they need a unique space to operate, but how to redress the schedule of plays they had already decided on for the Fall and Winter semesters. As well, the McGill Drama Festival (MDF), usually held in March and April, had to be moved to February for its 30th anniversary. Scheduled for the weeks of February 7-10 and February 14-17, it ran halfway through before the Theatre shutdown forced it to relocate to the SSMU cafeteria.
The Players’ executive questioned why this test was only being done in February, and why they were not made aware that testing was being done at all. “If you think that students will be in danger of any kind, you should find out as soon as possible,” said Francesca Scotti-Goetz, the Players’ Publicity Director. “Our biggest concern is was why this wasn’t made an issue before we had over 50 students working for months to put on these shows, and why this became an issue halfway through our run of shows.”
Gretel Kahn, the MDF Coordinator for Players’, stressed the frustration of having their theatre be the only space in the building that was closed. “For me personally, someone who has been organizing this event for the whole year, it was just like, why now, why only this theatre. Look at all the rooms [in the SSMU building] – the only one that has caution tape is Players’ Theatre,” stated Kahn.
On top of the logistical struggle of scrambling to find a last-minute venue, the Players’ exec spoke of the emotional toil of their experience. They explained that some of the SSMU members they encountered have been inconsiderate, and even disrespectful. Scotti-Goetz stated that Players’ problems have been belittled, or even treated as a laughing matter by some members of SSMU. “They acted as if it was just the shutting down of a room, and not the shutting down of our theatre space,” Scotti-Goetz said. As well, no one has been able to go back into the theatre since its closure, meaning that many personal belongings including costumes, props, sets, and even musical instruments have been left behind with no set date for when they can be retrieved.
The exec unanimously agreed that the most frustrating part of the entire experience has been the lack of information being passed on to them. Information has come in bits and pieces, and many of Players’ questions and demands have gone unanswered. The lack of information is particularly upsetting given the nature of the situation. With a serious health hazard, information should be relayed quickly and openly. Instead, SSMU had made decisions behind closed doors and has dawdled in releasing a statement, which was published a week after the shutdown.
“Had we been informed at any point in the timeline of events that occurred leading up to the theatre closure, the situation we were put in could have been avoided; we would have either cancelled MDF or found a different location for it much earlier on,” Scotti-Goetz stated. “Some of our interactions with certain SSMU representatives have led us to believe that they do not feel regret for how the issue was handled, as they have given us excuses and found ways to put us as fault. We recognize that the testing and the closure itself were unavoidable, but we would all be feeling a lot better about this if we felt that all those involved were empathetic, on our side, and ready to take responsibility for their actions,” Scotti-Goetz said.
Where SSMU fell short, other members of the McGill community stepped up. Tuesday Night Cafe Theatre, despite being in the midst of tech week for their own production, donated light pieces. Players’ also mentioned TVM: Student Television at McGill and Midnight Kitchen as key groups that have risen to the occasion. They also thanked certain members of SSMU who have been compassionate and helpful, especially Wallace Sealy, the Building Director. “We are very appreciative to those who have been supportive, helpful, and considerate of our situation,” Scotti-Goetz expressed.
Above all, the actors and directors of MDF rose to the challenge, and vowed to make the best of the difficult situation. Despite the lack of set pieces, sound, lighting, and costumes, the round-robin show went on as planned, demonstrating the unbreakable spirit of all the casts and crews. However, the fate of Players’ Theatre remains uncertain for the rest of the semester and the upcoming academic year. With students’ health at risk, SSMU must act quickly and transparently.