** Update **
Theatre Outré has released a new statement that contradicts its earlier claims. The new post says the theatre is not closing and says there are no issues with the city or their landlord, but only with the alleged homophobic neighbours in their building. More on that if we can confirm the content of the letters.
Outrage over the closure of a Lethbridge queer theatre space, Bordello, has been picking up steam on social media throughout the day after the company, Theatre Outré, posted a damning letter on its website. The outrage, however, might be a wee bit overblown.
In the company’s post, it claims that homophobic letters from two tenants in the building where Theatre Outré is developing a new theatre space has changed the city’s mind when it comes to the company’s right to operate. “A bureaucratic process, which we were close to finishing, was road-blocked and our venue, therefore, is no longer allowed to operate for the purposes of theatre performance until we receive approval from a city council,” it reads.
“Unfortunately, in the span of just the past few days, ignorant and homophobic neighbouring tenants in the McFarland Buidling have made it clear in various ways that we are not welcome in their midst. Two hateful, hurtful and defamatory emails were sent to our landlord questioning our integrity based on moral grounds and challenging our co-existing alongside their businesses, including an insurance broker and a music school for children.”
The post goes on to point out some horrible things that were in the letters, which have justifiably outraged many. If true, the allegations are troubling. The authors of the alleged letters are outed on Theatre Outré’s website.
The one problem in this context, according to Lethbridge city councillor Jeff Carlson, who is also friends with the members of Theatre Outré, is that the letters have nothing to do with the issues around the space.
“The club Bordello has operated for a couple of years in Lethbridge now, they’ve just moved to a new location and apparently they didn’t bother to get any business license or development permit,” says Carlson.
“The city relies… a lot of it is complaint driven. Our development staff doesn’t drive around trying to find where businesses have popped up. So what happened is two people came down and said ‘do you know about this?’ And they said ‘actually no, we don’t have a development permit.’ So we started the process and that’s where it’s at. They just need to apply for the permit and I think everything will be fine.”
Carlson, as any city councillor would be, is troubled that the city will be given a black eye over this situation and stresses that Lethbridge is not an intolerant place. He does, however, acknowledge that intolerance does exist, as in any other place. But again, “it has nothing to do with their development permit.”
He’s also concerned that the post went up without the courtesy of a phone call from his friends at Theatre Outré and says he could have calmed this situation down before it heated up.
Carlson has not seen the letters in question, but a friend who is a board member of Theatre Outré and another who works with them from time to time read him sections of the letters over the phone. “They also read me parts of the landlord’s response which I thought was really professional and excellent and supported the Bordello,” says Carlson.
The other claim made by Theatre Outré on their website is that they will be forced to be licensed as an “adult theatre,” another claim that Carlson finds puzzling. He says the only place he’s seen mention of that is in the homophobic letters written by the building tenants.
“We’ve had productions of Hair and Oh! Calcutta! where there’s nudity on stage and we didn’t make our local theatre companies classify themselves as adult theatre, so no, I don’t think that definition applies at all,” he says.
“The two definitions I think will be most applicable would be either private club, like the Moose Hall or something like that, or entertainment establishment, and unfortunately they’ve applied for neither as far as I know.”
And how long is the process once you do apply?
“I think our development officers were trying get them through so it would be done by February 11th. It’s not overly onerous for something like this.”
Theatre Outré has not responded to repeated requests for comment.