A new Varscona


The Varscona Theatre is one of Edmonton’s busiest and most accessible theatre spaces. Located in the heart of Edmonton’s historic Old Strathcona district, the venue is a vital part of Edmonton’s theatre ecology and operates year round. Originally built in 1956 as a fire hall, the venue was repurposed in 1982 as a performing arts venue.

Hosting more than 35,000 Edmontonians annually, the Varscona Theatre is home to a core of highly respected professional theatre companies including Shadow Theatre, Teatro la Quindicina, Die-Nasty The Live Improvised Soap Opera and Oh Susanna. Together the resident companies employ over 100 professional artists.

Over the course of 350 cultural performances each year, the venue is also an affordable rental option to the community for independent productions and has become a vital venue to Edmonton’s internationally acclaimed Fringe Theatre Festival each August. In the 2010/2011 season the Varscona Theatre also hosted Northern Light Theatre, Surreal SoReal Theatre and Mostly Water Theatre.

In order to properly manage the venue’s operating and facility needs, the Varscona Theatre Alliance (VTA) was formed in 1996. The Varscona Theatre Alliance is a volunteer run cooperative board comprised of members of the four resident companies. These resident companies realized early in their tenure at Varscona Theatre that there was an urgent need to effectively maintain and operate the performing arts space that was becoming increasingly popular with audiences and artists alike.

Building on their collaborative skills as artists, they created the Varscona Theatre Alliance (VTA) with a desire to oversee the management of the Varscona Theatre in a responsible and financially sustainable manner. Subsequently the VTA has become the driving force behind the Varscona Theatre rebuild project.

Audiences for each resident company have grown, as well as the number of days used for rental of the space, with an average of 350 performances each year since 2009. The Varscona Theatre has embedded itself in the cultural fabric of Edmonton and has gathered considerable support and good will for its role in Edmonton’s performing arts sector.


The building is owned by the City of Edmonton and administered by the Varscona Theatre Alliance, currently is the third year of a seven-year lease. The Alliance pays $1 per year plus a fee of $168.00 per month for boiler maintenance.

Since its inception, the Varscona Theatre Alliance has been responsible for the building’s operations and maintenance needs, and has invested almost $300,000 in necessary improvements such as upgrading the front windows and doors, renovating the lobby, bathrooms and dressing rooms and new seating in the theatre.

These improvements have been largely cosmetic, and have not addressed the fundamental issue of aging infrastructure. The usage of the building has grown exponentially since 1996 and is now reaching a state of maximum occupancy whereby the community is being negatively impacted and the longevity of the structure itself is in question.

In 2010, after years of fixing burst pipes and rotting plumbing, patching a leaking roof and dealing with ancient wiring The VTA engaged PCL to perform a facility assessment. The primary recommendation from the assessment was to demolish the current facility and build a new theatre.

The VTA has undertaken a capital campaign to engage and communicate with its audiences, the surrounding neighbourhood, and all levels of government in an effort to raise the funds necessary to complete a rebuild of The Varscona Theatre.

At this stage, the Varscona Theatre Alliance requires funds to take the next necessary steps in the planning and pre-construction phase; the construction company originally engaged, PCL has been an extraordinary corporate citizen and is keen to continue to guide the VTA through uncharted territory.

The City of Edmonton has pledged $2,000,000 toward a total budget of $6,000,000. On top of our own fundraising efforts, including our annual Crystal Ball, our seat sale and corporate/private fundraising, we are asking the Province of Alberta and Heritage Canada to make significant contributions.


The Varscona Theatre Alliance, through the rebuild and refurbishment of the current space, will transform the Varscona Theatre into a user friendly, environmentally sound and flexible community engagement venue for professional theatre.

Staying true to its desire to be a responsible and sustainable venue manager, the Varscona Theatre Alliance plans to maintain the stability it has created for the resident companies, allowing future growth of audiences and therefore revenue; attaining 90% occupancy between the resident companies and independent producer renters will be the main focus for the short- term to medium-term.

Through the Varscona Theatre rebuild project, the VTA will continue to increase its profile and reputation in the cultural sector as an important and accessible venue for the community at large. Our goal is to be valued for our contributions to Edmonton’s reputation as a creative and vibrant community to live and do business in.


The Varscona Theatre is housed in a 50-year-old former fire hall. The recent facility assessment conducted by PCL revealed that: the building envelope performs very poorly; the loads from items such as theatre lighting overload the existing roof structure; the plumbing, heating and ventilating systems have exceeded their expected life span and are in need of replacement; the number of plumbing fixtures represent only a fraction of what is required for the facility’s current use; and the electrical system requires many upgrades and additions to meet current codes. The assessment also revealed that the original foundation and steel structure are sound and continue to meet the code requirements.

The assessment indicates that the cost to upgrade and /or replace the mechanical and electrical systems will cost more than a similar installation in a new facility.

The Varscona Theatre is a key venue in the ecology of Edmonton’s performing arts sector.  Given the poor state of the facility and the constant pressure on the VTA to mitigate facility issues and risks on a day-to-day basis with minimal financial resources, a decision has been made to undertake a rebuild of the facility over 2012/13 season.

A typical Saturday at The Varscona last fall looked like this:

11 A.M.: Children’s programming

2 P.M.: Matinee performance of the main stage production

7.30 P.M.: Evening performance of main stage production

11 P.M.: Late night improv or variety show

On those Saturdays we would have 500 people coming through the doors with an audience demographic from 2 to 80. As of today the theatre is booked solid until fall 2013, when hope to begin the project.

The Varscona’s mission is to provide to the professional theatre community an affordable and accessible theatre space while producing works which are within the financial reach of all Edmontonians.  Our aim is to keep the building in good working order and on solid financial ground. Theatre space is at a premium in the city and therefore we strive to provide as many opportunities throughout the year for as many professional theatre companies as possible to have the opportunity to use the space.   

Our vision for the building is turn the theatre into a beautiful and user friendly space. We want a lobby that can comfortably accommodate our patrons and we want our rehearsal hall to be warm in winter, cool in summer and available for use even if a play is running. If we can accomplish all these goals the Varscona will become even more of a resource to our neighbourhood, our city and our province. Without the support and loyalty of our many audience members of all ages, our unique artist-run performance venue could not exist and thrive. WE THANK YOU!



seat sale!

Buy a seat and help support us with our capital campaign to bring you an all-new Varscona Theatre. For $200, you'll receive your name on a brand new seat. You also receive our deepest gratitude for your continued investment in our renovations. Call Shadow Theatre at 780-434-5564 and ask about our seat sale. We appreciate your patience and patronage as we continue to lobby for support from all three levels of government (We have already received a pledge of $2,000,000 from the City of Edmonton, still to be matched from other sources).

The following individuals and groups have purchased seats so far (shown in order of seat number). We thank you!

Dana Anderson & Davina Stewart

Lauren Hunka

Brad Fisher

Stephanie Wolfe

Mark Meer & Belinda Cornish

Donovan Workun

Peter Brown & Susan McGillivary

In Memory of Gilbert Bouchard

Jeff Haslam

Graeme Fricke

Bill Vaughan

Francis Sitwell

Greta Sitwell

Elaine Solez

Elaine Solez

George Fraser

Elsie Hepburn

Elsie Hepburn

Bob & Helen Buck

Bob & Helen Buck

Karen Johnson

Ronald & Gloria Chalmers

Gurston & Barbara Dacks

Esther Ondrack

Candace Young

Sarah Rudd

Beth Mackey

Rachel Rudd

Alana Eshpeter

Graeme Kersell

Bill & Gong Keil

Brent Christopherson

Daiyo & Soly Sawada

Joanne and Lee

Marnie & Brian Sproule

Old Strathcona Business Association

Old Strathcona Business Association

Old Strathcona Business Association

Old Strathcona Business Association

Old Strathcona Business Association

Ben Henderson

Laurie Blakeman

In memory of Kathleen Musgrove

The Rotary Club (Gateway)

Gail, Raymond & Peta Cornish

Leland & Judy Stelck

Jeanne Irwin

Old Strathcona Foundation

Old Strathcona Foundation

Aaron Brown

Alison Russell

Flirt Cupcakes

Lou Marta

Gordon & Georgine Moe

Normand & Wendy Journault

Nathan Fillion

Rick Wilson

Mette Rasmussen

Erin Mahoney

Brendan Mahoney

Bev Brookbank

Dr. Bubbles & Evelyn Meer

Dr. Jennifer Meer & Dr. Brian Hogan

Doug Ahlf

Jean Ahlf

Elizabeth Atherton-Reid

Mark Freeman

Brenda Davis

Peter & Shirley Edwards

Gordon and Norma McIntosh

Gordon and Norma McIntosh

John Arnold

Peter and Catherine Morrison

Peter and Catherine Morrison

Bill & Carol Barton

Bill & Carol Barton

Heather Hudson & Paul Cowling

Earle Waugh

Douglas Oakley

Elizabeth McAfee

Anahi Johnson

Sol & Shirley Sigurdson

Josh & Celina Dean

Ken & Gertie Dean

Matt Currie

Kathryn & Elizabeth Iggulden

Owen & Sylvia Kother

Erich & Linda Schartner

Donna Dempster

John Quinn

G & J Michon

S & S Bouska

Dean & Carmelle Cooper

Anne Nothof

Kathy Williams

Lorris Williams

Richard Remund

Alan Cox & Sean McCann


Judy Lawrence

Nancy Sanbormn

Jacqueline Beault

John Hudson & Sandy Paddick

Mary Hudson

Judy Unwin

Guys in Disguise

Coralie Cairns & John Sproule

  1. R.Dale Werner

Sharon Killey

Jenny Diment

Shauna Perry & Steven Gilmour

Richard Maranchuk

Chris Killingsworth

Ally Whittaker

Graham Usher

Linda Weiner & Beatrice Nearey

Larry Derkach