A Lethbridge theatre group says they have been forced to close the doors on their new performance space after receiving what they call "hateful, hurtful and defametory emails" from other tenants in the building.
Theatre Outré, known for content that explores the fringes of sexual norms and gender expectations, recently moved from their small performance space into a bigger space in the historic McFarland Building on 4th Avenue South.
According to a blog post by the founders of Outré, the company was excited to make the move into the refreshed space, called Bordello. However, just as they were ready to open, the group says their landlord received "ignorant and homophobic" emails from other tenants in the building.
"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."
In the blog post, Theatre Outré says the complaints lobbied against the group were about homosexual lifestyles, "transsexual endorsement," child molestation, catching STDs from the building toilets, rape and indecent exposure.
The group says one of the tenants is circulating a petition within the building, trying to get the theater company evicted. As well, they say, an anonymous "concerned citizen" has successfully asked Lethbridge City Hall to reclassify the space as an 'adult theatre,' meaning the venue will be closed until approval from city council.
"A year of being legitimized and celebrated as artists across Canada and internationally in cities including Calgary, Halifax, Lethbridge and Dublin has now been reduced to an adult theatre unworthy of operating without special permission because of one phone call to the mayor."
Adding to the irony is the fact the group had previously secured grants from the Alberta Foundation of the Arts, The City of Lethbridge and the approval of the Downtown Lethbridge BRZ.
The City of Lethbridge issued a statement Wednesday, saying the matter has nothing to do with the group's production content, but rather "the need for a development permit application in order to operate a theatre."
The City says a representative from Theatre Outré was told Jan. 27 the group would need to apply for a development permit to operate in the city, in keeping with the standard land-use bylaw process.
The City says a development permit application has not been filed to date, but welcomes applications from any groups.
Theatre Outré, however, attests there was no issue until the anonymous tip to City Hall.
"This new definition of our space (which they were previously going to license as a ‘club’ with zero red tape) came about after the Mayor’s Office was notified and city hall employees visited our website. At Theatre Outré, we don’t know what the label ‘adult theatre’ means in respect to the work that we do."
From day one, the group has celebrated a variety of lifestyles – straight, gay and trans, included – but, as they told lethbridgelink.com last year, judgement, prudishness and censorship are not something they stand for.
Twitter users in Calgary and Lethbridge were quick to share their support with the theatre company, expressing sympathy and frustration with the situation.
— Joel Pendergast (@JoelPendergast) January 29, 2014
@TheatreOutr, I am completely outraged and heart broken.
— jaimeejarvie (@jaimeejarvie) January 29, 2014
Neither Theater Outré not the tenants have returned emails from The Huffington Post Alberta.
UPDATE: Theatre Outré has released a new statement on their website, saying they have been in contact with members of Lethbridge city council and are working with them to secure the appropriate permits and licensing for their space.
"We want to make it clear that we are NOT being kicked out by our landlord. We have NOT BEEN PERMANENTLY closed by our city. These would be false claims. Our major hurdle is NOT the City of Lethbridge. We understand there is a licensing process and a discussion has to be had around what we do in order to properly process our new venue. The homophobic views present around us in that building that would surely make it impossible to stay in that building is what we wanted to be quite transparent about with the public."