This site originally contained two theatres : The Empress Theatre was constructed in 1908, the Capitol Theatre in 1922. Both Theatres Shared a common entrance off Main Street that came through what is now our lobby. In 1926, fire destroyed the Empress and gutted the Capitol. Mr. A.H. Lindsay, a firefighter, died trying to save the building. To date, he is the only firefighter to lose his life in the line of duty in the City of Moncton. The Empress was completely rebuilt and the Capitol refurbished to open less then seven months after the fire. With 1400 seats, the Capitol Theatre became a focal point for community activity; live Vaudeville was vibrant, exciting and, at 10 cents a show, very affordable. The colourful decor reflected the nature of the entertainment. Live theatre soon turned to silent movies, sometimes with an orchestra of 10-15 musicians led by Maude Burbank. Talkies followed then colour films. Live performances became less frequent. The building existed as a cinema until the late 1980’s, when Famous Players closed it down and offered the premises for sale. It remained empty and unused for several years until reconstruction started in 1992, when once again the Capitol Theatre returned to celebrate the live performing arts. At a cost of $3.5 million, the theatre was transformed back in time to its original splendour of 1922 some 70 years later, to serve as Moncton’s Performing Arts Centre. The Capitol re-opened its doors in 1993.
Artists have rendered the original designs on stage and in the lobby, which you can see once inside the theatre itself. Seats now number some 818. They were offered for sale to defray restoration costs, prices varying from $250 to $1,000 according to location.
On the left, the removal of the wall that separated the two theatres has allowed for a more spacious lobby. A bar and concession booth have been installed. On the left rear, is an elevator, which travels up to the mezzanine and the 2nd floor. It does not go up to the balcony. This serves to carry wheelchairs to the mainstage level and to the toilets on the upper floor.
At the rear center, the stairs lead down to the coat check.
Please note the art gallery here in the lobby. This consists of work by local artists, which rotates every two months or so. The art located in the stairwell and on the second floor was donated by Judy Jacobsen after the death of her husband Steven, who was a faithful patron of the theatre and felt the lobby walls needed some artwork.
All chandeliers in the lobby were donated by various individuals and companies during the restoration. You may also note the walls were texturized with sponge painting and hand-stencilled near the ceiling.
The chairs located along the lobby walls are actually samples that were provided for tender. If you look closely, they are all slightly different. The actual seats in the house were chosen by a member of the board who is a physiotherapist.
The interior restoration of the stencils and murals was supervised by Hannivan and Company of Toronto. Interior restoration was not the original plan for the renovation of the Capitol, just a fresh coat of paint. David and Patty Hannivan came to the Capitol in the summer of 1992 as consultants. They removed layers of paint and found the ornate stencil work and murals by Emmanuel Briffa, one of the great theatre decorators of his day. It was then that the renovation project included the interior restoration.
The result is perhaps Briffa’s most elaborate work, considered a gem and unmatched in Canada.
In the silent movie era, 10-15 musicians led by local musician Maude Burbank, occupied the below ground space and accompanied the film. When not in use, a stage extension acts as a lid, providing more space on stage and supporting around 12 people.
The 1922 Vaudeville Theatre was constructed with a Proscenium Arch, bowed floor and wooden structure, providing the Capitol with some of the best acoustics in Eastern Canada. The principle of its design os similar to the excellent acoustics found inside a guitar.
This is the original painted by Briffa himself. Fire curtains were mandatory in theatres for many years, always lowered at some time during the performance to ensure patrons of their safety. This curtain, found in poor shape during the restoration, was cleaned and refurbished by members of the art society. The rear of the curtain bears the faded signatures of some of the 1922 performers as well as more recent artists.
Sound and lightning booths are equipped with modern controls and equipment with a wide potential.
The Opera Boxes, destroyed in the 1950’s, have been recreated with the aid of only two surviving photos found in the Moncton Museum. Motifs on the face are taken from the balcony design and reproduced on the boxes. They are more decorative than functional as, despite their beauty, provide a cut view of the stage.
The stage floor is sprung tongue and groove softwood flooring. This creates a surface suitable for dancers. The Proscenium Arch is about 30’ wide, 30’ deep and 20’ high. Maximum flying height is 45’.
The fly gallery has over 30 linesets with a new counterweight system, refurbished during the renovations.
A convenient 4’ passage has been created to allow quick entrances and exists to and from either side of the stage.
This will accommodate 20 performers. There are make-up stations, lockers, and separate washrooms with showers and toilets.
This contains two make-up stations, wardrobe space, and private washroom with shower. Can also be used as an office for directors, stage managers, etc.
This is the performer’s lounge, offering a relaxing atmosphere to unwind, call home or conduct interviews with the media.
On the right down the hall, there used to be six apartments; now there are washrooms (men’s, women’s and unisex facilities which are wheelchair accessible). Administration offices are at the end of the hall.
A washer dryer, iron, etc., are provided as well as mending supplies for wardrobe mistress or artists.
Complete load-in is at stage level, making for easy entrance and exit of stage furnishings. Two closets are available for concert pianos, the offices located above these house the Technical Director and Head of Maintenance. A Freight elevator has been installed to facilitate load-in and piano displacement, catering, etc. for the Empress.