When “Arizona” Charlie Meadows built his Palace Grand Theatre in 1899 in Dawson City, it probably never occurred to him that some version of the place would still exist in 2013.
The current building is not exactly the original, though it does contain some of the original wood. The original was torn down, numbered, and put back together, with the addition of modern washrooms, new wiring and other updates.
If you compare their ages, the revived building is now nearly the same age as the original was before it was rebuilt. It remains an impressive structure and everyone who performs in it says it has a great sound.
Restored as part of a plan to hold an annual theatre festival, and launched with a money-losing run of Foxy (a Klondike remodeled version of Ben Jonson’s “Volpone”) it became the home of the less ambitious Gaslight Follies — a mixture of vaudeville and melodrama. The show was never a big money maker, but it was worth running as long as the tour bus crowd booked tickets as part of their cruise ship program.
Gaslight Follies ran for over 35 years until it was killed by a bunch of terrorists and their airplanes. After September 2001, with the Holland-America cutting prices to attract less nervous (and less wealthy) travellers, that guaranteed audience was gone and the show began losing money. It survived at a loss for a couple of years after that, but the growing tide of red ink could not be held back for long.
The show closed after the 2003 season, when it was expected it would actually lose $140,000.
Since then the palace has been seriously underused.
Regular events include the high school’s graduation, the Commissioner’s Ball, music festival concerts, Parks Canada’s entertaining-but-hardly-spectacular Greatest Klondiker show, and daily Parks’ tours of the building.
This summer that changed.
“Live at the Palace Grand” features 16 shows from 11 different performers during the months of July and August. It began with Bonnie Kilroe’s “Country Queens” show on July 4, and will end with two shows by Gillian Campbell in her Klondike Kate persona on August 9 and 10.
In between those bookends you will find Klondike singer-songwriters, as well as Tomáš Kubánek, Al Simmons, Thomas Baxter (ThoughtControl), Declan O’Donovan and Claire Ness. There will also be an evening of locally produced films called Dawson on Screen.
This is happening under the guidance of the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, with assistance from Parks Canada, and as part of the regional economic development planning resulting from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement.
At the Klondike Development Organization forum on June 26, producer Emily Farrell conceded that timing and publicity were late and that this will affect the outcome of the season. But this is a pilot project and something that needed to be done to find out if it could work.
“KIAC is thrilled to partner with Parks Canada this season and give audiences from near and far the opportunity to enjoy the stunning Palace Grand Theatre as it was meant to be experienced – during live performances,” said Farrell in a late June press release.
Here’s hoping it all works out.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.