Wolfville’s Al Whittle Theatre Needs Love

Wendy Elliott

The Al Whittle Theatre in Wolfville is very much alive, even though there have been no public performances and almost zero income for the past 12 months.
Fortunately there have been some private rentals and support from the provincial government, so Mary Harwell, manager of Wolfville’s cultural hub, says, “we’re not in danger, but revenues are down a lot.”

An emergency funding grant of $19,715 will help the facility to continue to host concerts, film screenings, live theatre, and festivals once pandemic restrictions ease. The cinema had a program of improvements underway, Harwell noted, but refurbishing of brickwork on the 120-year-old building has been somewhat delayed. “We’re keeping things going,” she said. An Oscar-based film series of 11 screenings is set to start on April 4 with social distancing. The Valentine’s weekend of films was popular.

Co-op president Frank Lussing says the board has been using its meetings to “look forward post-pandemic and be aware of changing factors to determine what kind of future we want to have.”

One of the key changes was suggested by performers, he said, “who are looking for opportunities to expand their audiences virtually. There will never be a substitute for live audiences, but due to the pandemic there is more interest in that experience.”

As a result, some of the funds raised in the annual share sale campaign will go toward the purchase of live-streaming equipment. Since the Nova Scotia government has ended the Equity Tax Credit program for cooperatives, $100 shares can be purchased at any time of the year, says secretary Elisabeth Kosters.

The theatre is a provincially-designated landmark dating back to 1901. In 1947, the re-named Acadia Theatre showed its first film. After a period of closure twenty years ago, the newly-renovated, community-owned theatre reopened in 2004. The building is called the Acadia Cinema, but the theatre was named after long-time manager, the late Al Whittle.

Community volunteers and co-op shareholders were able to pay off the mortgage on the cinema in 2019. The cinema board includes Frank Lussing, President; Lesley Winters, Vice-President; Elisabeth Kosters, Secretary; Trevor Lloyd, Treasurer; Vincent den Hartog, Alyson Kelly, Graham Howes, Lynn Aylward, and Deborah Hemming.

Photo courtesy of Wendy Elliott.