News  Players’ Theatre forced to relocate

Asbestos contamination prompts immediate relocation during Festival

On Monday February 12, the McGill Drama Festival was forced from its office during their second week of performances. The Players Theatre was found to be contaminated by asbestos, a material used to insulate and fireproof buildings, prompting the immediate relocation.

Gretel Kahn, the McGill Drama Festival Coordinator, said in an interview with The Daily: “The theatre was seized from us on Monday. […] we didn’t know what we were going to do. […] We still had the hope that they [were] going to fix whatever was wrong with the theatre, […] but […] yesterday we [found] out that we were going to do [the play] [in the SSMU cafeteria].” Kahn said that executives found out that day when they went to the office only to find the locks being changed.

“Yesterday we [found] out that we were going to do [the play] [in the SSMU cafeteria].”

The Players Theatre holds the McGill Drama Festival annually, showcasing “entirely student-written, -directed, -produced, and -performed shows on campus.” The event is usually held between March and April; however, Kahn stated that she purposely scheduled the festival in February this year in order to work within the restrictions of the SSMU building closure.

In October of last year, McGill announced the closure of the University Centre building, which was scheduled to start in March 2018. The closure is due to repairs needed on the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system, the rebuilding of the electrical system, and asbestos abasement, among other repairs.

Jemark Earle, SSMU’s VP Student Life, stated to The Daily in an interview that all student organizations were notified of the building closure in July 2017, which despite being a fairly short notice, gave groups such as the Players Theatre enough time to schedule their showtimes accordingly. Earle says that an email notifying organizations was sent out “to let [all McGill organizations ] know that someone is going to be entering their space to conduct tests [on the condition of the space] not that […] it could possibly result in [their space being closed down].”

Asbestos contamination

Ahead of the building repairs, environmental companies have tested locations within SSMU to see where asbestos is concentrated and whether certain rooms have been “disturbed.” The term “disturbed” refers to when the toxic fibers of asbestos are released into the air, contaminating not only the location, but the contents of the location.

The Players Theatre, situated in room 309 on the third floor of SSMU, was found to be disturbed and subsequently closed off to the public, as well as members of the Players Theatre by the General Manager of SSMU, Ryan Hughes.

In an interview, Earle stated that, “as soon as we know or are aware of anything like [rooms being disturbed] we are going to close down the area. We don’t want to put any of our students or people at risk. That’s not what we’re going to do.”

“We don’t want to put any of our students or people at risk. That’s not what we’re going to do.”

Due to the closure of the theatre, set pieces and costumes left within the room were deemed “disturbed.” Therefore, cast and crew were unable to access much of the equipment essential to their performance and set up, such as sound and light equipment and light cues used to illuminate the stage.

Many personal items, including instruments belonging to students in the Faculty of Music were also left in the room. When asked by the Daily how the administration will respond to the loss of such belongings, Earle said that, “McGill’s supposed to cover the cleaning cost right now […] and so I would assume that McGill would [compensate] students for everything that they […] lost if it’s not […] recoverable or even if it is recoverable.”

According to both Kahn and Earle, SSMU’s Security Supervisor Wallace Sealy was immediately in communication with the Players Theatre, and helped them with the relocation of the space for their upcoming performances.

Earle also said to The McGill Daily that he and Hughes spent all of this past Monday through Thursday trying to coordinate with Concordia University and other theatres within Montreal, in order to secure a space. They also tried working with McGill’s Savoy Society because the Society have Moyse Hall booked. However, Earle and Hughes were ultimately not able to find an alternative place for the performance.

The SSMU cafeteria was secured and booked for the use of the Players’ Theatre until Saturday, February 17, the last day of the festival. However, the group had to cancel their show on February 14, because an alternative space had not been found in time. The cast and crew were unable to carry out a full technical run in the new space due to the short notice concerning the relocation.

The cast and crew were unable to carry out a full technical run in the new space due to the short notice concerning the relocation.

Kahn stated to The McGill Daily, “[we] have people coming from Toronto, New York, [and] Philadelphia that come to see their children act, that come to see the plays […] so obviously cancelling was not an option for us.”

Earle explained to The Daily that “[McGill] is […] contracting out jobs […] they’re deciding who’s going to […] take the project right now and so I think it’s just kind of like they’re getting the basic stuff done so that they can give that information to the contracted employees.”

“Cancelling was not an option for us.”

Earle further stated that he is waiting on the report regarding the extent of the asbestos contamination. He noted that further information cannot be sent out to the public regarding the safety and accessibility of rooms, due to SSMU not yet receiving such reports.

When asked what the SSMU has planned in response to potential health issues that may arise, Earle stated, “I personally would say that it’s a McGill’s building so […] when […] SSMU is made aware of that [asbestos contamination] I would think that we would make the request to McGill and then it would be their prerogative to get someone in here as soon as possible to fix the situation. I don’t that that’s how it plays out in reality, though because […] I don’t know where their priorities lie.”

“It should be McGill’s responsibility, but I think SSMU does do a lot [of that work].”

“It should be McGill’s responsibility, but I think SSMU does do a lot [of that work].”