Transform a former movie theater into a circus school: quite an adventure!
We have all certainly passed in front of 6956 Saint-Denis, corner of Bélanger Street: a former, almost centennial, movie theatre accomodating an ostentatious marquise Christian center. However, for the last few months, out of sight, a new tenant, far from ordinary is installed, animated by a very different vocation. To its own Image, the reconversion of the premises is spectacular, even incredible. Here is a summary …
1931 – Historical context
Designed by the same architect as the Outremont movie theater - René Charbonneau - the movie theater Le Château was built in 1931. Period of the Great Depression and an era where instead of the Jean-Talon market, was an important lacrosse field. Now classified as an historic monument, this art deco style building is one of the few of its kind in Quebec and more than remarkable combines housing, businesses and a theater. As a bonus, it is among the best preserved in the province.
Inside the theater, in the years following its construction, vaudeville and film screening is presented in a large hall containing 1,300 seats in a sumptuous décor inspired by pre-Columbian art. We owe this interior decor as well as the Rialto’s, the Rivolito theater right in front and a hundred halls across America to Emmanuel Briffa.
1989 – Renovation
While the place has lost its original luster and is on the decline, the metropolitain Christian Centre acquired it, restored it and makes it a place of worship as well as its headquarters. The new owners use the main room and the apartments at the second floor. However, what very few people know is that there is a second hall at the second floor, smaller but very similar, which so far had not been used and had never been renovated.
July 2015 – A calculated risk
Looking for new premises to install her trapeze school "Trapezium", Karin Arseneault was looking for an old church to renovate. It is by the biggest hazard - and the magic of Google – that she falls on this unknown hall, even forgotten, located at a few steps from here and lovesick that the Christian centre was seeking to rent.
The ultra dynamic, Karin loves taking calculated risks, whether its art, trapeze, or business. Using her contagious enthusiasm, she managed – certainly not without any difficulty and after several months of discussion - to convince the owners of the premises of relevance and especially the technical feasibility of her ambitious project.
August 2015 – A crazy project
Within a period of just a few weeks, we had to thoroughly renovate the hall – in a pitiful condition - and safely install the many acrobatic equipments. And all this despite the many daily obstacles and unforseen costs that will oblige Karin to re mortgage her house.
An example of a technical challenge which was solved thanks to the contribution of a professional acrobatic designer (who by a strange coincidence lives nearby) : firmly permanently anchored the structures for hanging the trapezes, platforms and other aerial equipment in a place that was not at all planned for and dated back to the 1930’s. "We had to have the concrete structure analyzed by an engineer and then hang everything through a false ceiling of almost twenty feet high!".
2015 – Theatrical blow
The "Trapezium’s" safety net because of the lack of clearance for unfolding, cannot be installed in the hall. We must change strategy. In extremis, Karin acquires in California and at great expense, a giant inflatable mattress normally used for film stunts. "We are the only ones along with a Brooklyn Circus School to use this equipment in North America. Finally, it was worth the trouble, it's much better than the traditional net! "
In addition to the major work carried out with scaffolding, the pieces were mounted one by one in the hall and adjusted to the closest millimeter, everything had to be refreshed according to the original design: the ceiling moldings, light fixtures and the seats. In short, a monk's work ! "The 260 seats have been completely done over: we put two layers of oil on each and the cushions were stuffed by a professional. We had to remove the old gum one by one accumulated under the seats. If we forget any, the gum melts on the brush and you have to redo the job. We truly believed that we were in Asterix’s madhouse! ''
October 2015 - The unexpected help
When Karin was beginning to seriously give up hope, providential help arrives. "My friend Jason, who works in construction in addition to being a multidisciplinary acrobat, quit his job to come and help me full time. Without him, we would have never made it.
Karin: "The work was finished in record time. We had a deadline, the hall had to be ready for a corporate event organized with a group from Toronto. To get there, we had to work seven days a week and sleep on the premises."
November 2nd, 2015 - D-Day
After holding up for weeks at this frantic pace, everything was ready to welcome the famous group. "We felt like on a deco show: you screw the last screw, you sweep the floor, you look relaxed but you're not at all! ". Therefore, after the circus construction site, we could finally give way to real circus!
Open to the public
LE CHATEAU DE CIRQUE offers classes and activities for all ages and all levels: flying trapeze, aerial silks, hoops, floor acrobatics, hand to hand, Chinese pole and parkour.
Jason is the one who teaches parkour and Chinese pole (one of the most difficult disciplines in the field of circus arts; be warned!). In the case of parkour, it happens inside, safely, on mattresses and modules and not on the urban concrete!
According to our preferences, we can register for one activity, or as a passport. There are also group formulas for children's parties.
After so much effort, Karin and her co-workers deserve that you come and admire their prowesses. The hall itself, - so well restored - is worth seeing, and that's not counting its charming and enthusiastic hosts.
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