By far, my favourite place to go to see a show in Regina is The Artesian on 13th, located on the corner of 13th Avenue and Angus Street in the Cathedral neighbourhood. There are so many things that make it special, from the entertainment they book, to the intimate atmosphere, to the venue itself.
Let’s start with the name – an artesian is an aquifer with groundwater that flows up through a well without the need for pumping. It’s a reference to the wellspring of talent in our city and province. And the venue? It was formerly Calvary Evangelical Church, which was built in 1950 and designed by well-known architects Storey and Van Egmond. The church was purchased in 2009 by Chad Jacklin and Marlo Gebhardt, owners of the Mysteria Gallery that was located across the street at the time (the gallery has since moved to #106 – 2300 Broad Street and is now named Mata Gallery). Inspired by local bands and theatre and dance groups, such as The Lazy MKs, Curtain Razors and New Dance Horizons, Chad and Marlo saw a need in the city for a smaller venue, a multipurpose space for artists who might otherwise be using church basements to rehearse and perform.
They spent the next few years updating the church into a modern arts venue that also honoured the building’s past. They restored the yellow pine and fir windows, reopened the choir balcony, removed the blue shag carpet and replaced the leaking steeple. They brought in pews from a church outside Regina and worked hard to salvage old materials from buildings set for demolition.
I enjoy going to the bar and lounge area in the basement before and after shows. Art, which is for sale, adorns the walls and comfy, vintage couches are a great place to visit while you’re waiting for the show to start. And it doesn’t hurt that there’s a great selection of beverages – with or without alcohol – to enjoy.
Of course, though, it’s the shows that keep me coming back. The venue is home to some of my favourite local performing arts companies and shows, such as the Golden Apple Theatre, Hectik Theatre and Jayden Pfeifer’s Red Hot Riot. The Artesian nurtures the improv community in the city by hosting Combat Improv and Hitchhikers Improv regularly. It’s also a venue for the Regina International Fringe Theatre Festival and the Regina Folk Festival’s Concert Series. I recently saw Alex Cuba perform there during the Folk Festival’s inaugural Winterruption festival in January. It was a great show, partially because the Artesian is large enough to host a concert of that size, but still small enough for the audience to feel a real connection with the performers.
Performers like it, too. The other day, I caught up with singer/songwriter Jeffery Straker, who has held a few of his CD launches at the Artesian. He says, “I think it's a really special room, unique in Regina. It's the only small-scale theatre in the city and has great acoustics and sight lines. Audiences have told me that the sound in the room is fantastic. It's got a warm energy to it, and although it seats about 175 people, it feels really intimate. I really enjoy performing there. I recently saw a theatre production there with an un-mic'd singer and her voice resonated through the whole room. Not many spaces allow for that.”
I saw that production, Love Songs: A Diatribe, too. It was an impressive one-woman show written by local composer Robert Ursan, who is also the artistic director of Golden Apple Theatre. He says, “The Artesian has, from the outset, felt very much like home. It has the advantages of a great acoustic, an intimate setting and the warmth you feel from its design and decor. I always feel that I'm creating something special in the space. I also feel welcomed by its owner and staff -- a terrific and helpful group who want your productions to succeed and aid you in any way they can.”
Golden Apple, Jeffery Straker and playwright Kelley Jo Burke are collaborating on a fundraiser at the Artesian on March 11, a cabaret with a sneak peek at Jeffery and Kelley Jo’s new musical. I can’t wait to see it. There are other exciting shows coming up, too. This weekend I’m going to one of the live performances of CBC Radio’s This is That (both nights sold out!) On February 25, Alex Runions is hosting a fundraiser for TeleMiracle; on March 5, Belle Plaine launches her latest CD; and on March 25, Nick Faye & The Deputies also launch their CD.
Be sure to check out their events page regularly, or sign up for their e-newsletter, as you don’t want to miss out on the next great show!