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Drama alum spearhead project to save historic theatre

UWindsor grads Allan Powell (BFA 1979) and Michael Rawley (BFA 1979) are both in love with the same lady. She’s elegant, refined and in the entertainment business. Unfortunately she’s fallen on some hard times and the gents have teamed up to restore her to her former glory.

Kirkland Lake’s LaSalle Theatre was an art deco grand dame—providing generations of people with film and vaudeville-style entertainment beginning in 1939. When Powell, who is now a litigation lawyer with a family connection to the town, found the theatre shuttered and neglected on his return in 2012, he felt compelled to act.

“I always said I would somehow again become involved in theatre production,” Powell said. “Little did I suspect that this goal would lead me back to the LaSalle.”

Powell, who apprenticed in what was then the skilled trade of movie projectionist while in acting school, paid his way through university and law school by plying this trade after receiving his movie operator’s license.

“I always intended to be a producer of live theatre,” he said. “I felt that a law degree, combined with a theatre degree would make a perfect background for theatre production. Instead I discovered that acting and courtroom drama were a good combination and I have now been a litigation lawyer for over 25 years.”

Though Powell credits the LaSalle’s most recent owners with making a valiant effort to save her, he says he recognized he would need a helping hand to take on the gargantuan task of bringing new life to the building.  He approached his long-time friend and fellow acting grad Michael Rawley to discuss the possibility of saving the theatre and re-opening it up as a centre for the creative arts. His enthusiastic new partner immediately climbed on board.

“I had the honour and privilege to tour this cold, darkened, quiet building in February 2013,” Rawley said. “I was sold. It is a gorgeous structure with a stunning aesthetic and it remains, thankfully, intact. I could tell, even by the light of my cell phone, what it must have looked like on the day it opened in 1939.”

Rawley, who has been a working actor since graduation—among other projects, he spent years playing the malevolent Scar in the theatre production of The Lion King—says he felt compelled to participate in the theatre’s renovation project because he sees it as an opportunity not only to make theatre but to actually make a theatre.

“Too many theatres these days, or other kinds of buildings for that matter, are thought of as disposable. The LaSalle is an art deco gem and a rarity in Canadian theatres. There were few theatres built in that distinctive style and none remaining.”

Rawley says his love of theatre buildings is genetic—his grandfather was the general manager of Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre when he was a child and he has always felt the theatre to be his home.

Powell, who will serve as the LaSalle’s executive producer, and Rawley, who will fill the role of theatre manager and artistic director, already have the historic structure partially back in action, having hosted a free popcorn event in June in front of the theatre and in its restored mirrored foyer. Hard-hat tours of the building were also available to interested members of the public in exchange for a donation.

“This is about as exciting as it get,” Rawley said. “To be able to help breathe life back into this amazing building and allow it to live again—filled with people and filled with theatre, movies and art.”

For more information or to contribute to the project, visit www.savethelasalle.com.

Allan Powell and Michael Rawley in front of the historic LaSalle Theatre in Kirkland Lake. Photo courtesy of Karen Joyner.
Allan Powell and Michael Rawley pose in front of the historic LaSalle Theatre in Kirkland Lake. Photo courtesy of Karen Joyner.