Historic heartbeat of the entertainment community.
There is a beloved space on Main Street in Picton with so much history and heart it’s nearly bursting at the seams with admiration from its community. Couple that with intrigue and Art Deco vibes for days and The Regent Theatre continues to be an unforgettable venue.
Its bold, welcoming cinema marquee, backlit with moveable letters, is a fixture on the street, drawing people under the awning while harkening back to a time when theatres were more than entertainment. They were also an experience.
The Regent Theatre was brought to life in 1918 by a self-made Greek immigrant, George Cook. With foresight and determination, Cook turned his vision of creating a breathtaking entertainment hub in Picton into reality – just in time for the golden age of cinema. General Manager Alexandra Seay, said to this day, the Regent is Prince Edward County’s only purpose-built cinema and live performance venue.
“This is one of the oldest theatre buildings in Canada,” she said. With its grand proscenium stage, recent accessibility upgrades, and even a refurbishment of the interior colour scheme, the 104-year-old theatre is embracing its design heritage while keeping a keen eye on the future. That all adds up to a wow factor when audiences enter the venue.
“It speaks to an age when going to the movies was an event,” Seay said.
Not only does the heritage-listed theatre share the best films, live performances, special events, and digital programming, but Seay said it also serves as a gathering place for local creators and provides an integral space to connect audiences with artists. In addition, the Regent shares cultural experiences through rentals to individuals, presenters, and the community.
In fact, the venue now goes beyond its heritage auditorium to offer a newly-designed lobby bar, rehearsal space, a VIP guest lounge, offices, and event space, as well as a loft. It’s truly a multi-purpose performance venue – catering to the cinema, live theatre, music, and more.
The roots of the arts community within Prince Edward County run deep and “the Monarch of Main Street” has long since been a uniting force made possible by the sentiment shared by both residents and visitors for experiencing entertainment at the theatre.
Curtain Rises On Refurbishing
Seay said the Regent Theatre is in the process of getting some major updates and upgrades. This most recently has included constructing accessible seating terraces over the summer, which dramatically boosts the total to 30 fully accessible seats. Add in modified stairways, improved railings, and stair lighting for greater visibility, and it sets a new bar for accommodation in the space. Perhaps one of the most visually striking refurbishments is a deep burgundy look on the interior of the theatre via new paint throughout. Seay noted the renovations bring the theatre closer to what it looked like in the 1930s.
Seay said that the heritage of the theatre is driving its future. “It’s looking back to look forward,” she said, adding that its history is actually creating opportunities for the theatre to thrive as a destination. “We were built in a different age when it was an uplifting experience to come to the cinema. Now we’re able to offer that unique experience again.”
The renovations are continuing to revitalize lighting, energy efficiency, as well as flooring – without disrupting operations. In fact, there are numerous must-see performances on the bill for fall and early winter.
Regent On Stage
This fall, the stage at the Regent will light up with moving art and performances. From live music to a comedy night and from tribute artists to opera, there’s something on the schedule to suit all tastes. Of special note, three shows showcase the range of theatre by encompassing concert, community, and activation.
The Regent is hosting its Second Annual Truth and Reconciliation Concert on Sept. 30, 2022, featuring headliner, iskwē with guest, Shawnee Kish. A multi-award-winning artist, iskwē will grace the Regent stage, accompanied by a string quartet in what is sure to be a stunning night celebrating Indigenous culture.
On December 4, the Brighton All-Star Concert Band will perform their Christmas Extravaganza! This is a fundraiser for the Regent Theatre and will bring well-known sounds of the season to life with the band’s trademark energy and talent.
Next up, RH Thompson is performing Dickens’ solo touring version of A Christmas Carol on December 9. The acclaimed Canadian actor is accompanied by a jazz trio in this perfect way to celebrate the holidays with the family.
See the full fall lineup here to check out what else is on stage!
The Regent Theatre holds a special place in the hearts of many within the community. Whether through financial support or volunteering, the community is said to be the backbone of the theatre. In fact, in the mid-1990s, the theatre was purchased by community-based, not-for-profit group, The Regent Theatre Foundation, with the support of Edna Pearce Gordon.
The community is so entwined with the theatre that it made the separation of the two during the pandemic even more difficult. Seay said that bouncing back from Covid has been an incredible relief. “The absence of the community connection was so strongly felt,” she said. “There’s a sincere feeling of gratitude now when people come together. There’s a palpable feeling of appreciation to be sharing stories again. That connection and the gratefulness shared in the room is an emotional thing.”
On a brighter note, the pandemic experience did bring a glimmer of hope and innovation with an opportunity to explore digital endeavors. Instead of sitting idle, the Regent team equipped themselves to live stream. Now, they are able to maintain digital programming through a podcast.
The Made-in-the-County podcast series is produced by the theatre and featured 50-minute monthly episodes sharing the cultural heritage of Prince Edward County. Listen here for stories, art and music created or inspired by the County.
Seay said plans are in the works to do a live recording of the podcast in October using the loft space at the Regent Theatre to create a coffee-house style atmosphere. It’s these kinds of events and programming that Seay says they hope will continue to engage a younger audience – and foster that integral community connection for years to come.