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May 24, 2001 Summer theatre takes over Hudson train station



Heather Markgraf

Heather Markgraf is artistic director of the Hudson Village Theatre.

Photo by Helen Henshaw

by Anna Bratulic

The 100-year-old railway station at Hudson, a charming town on the Ottawa River west of Montreal, had long outlived its usefulness.

Devoid of modern amenities, with paint curling off the outer walls, it was ready for a date with the bulldozer when heritage preservers from the town bought it from CP Rail for $1.

In a remarkable reversal of fortune, the old Hudson station will be reborn on June 13 as the Hudson Village Theatre, thanks in part to a $100,000 grant from the Canadian Pacific Heritage Foundation.

Heather Markgraf is Director of Facilities in Concordia’s Theatre Department. She started the Hudson Village Theatre to produce light-hearted summer fare the year after she graduated from the Theatre program in 1992.

As the Village Theatre’s artistic director, she is thrilled with the new venue, but not surprised.
“This is not a fly-by-night project. It has a really steady base,” Markgraf said, as she drove down Hudson’s main street. The theatre had humble origins in a rented pole tent in the summer of 1993.

Humble origins in a rented tent

“We had 200 seats and no air,” she recalled, and inquisitive wildlife attended shows on a regular basis. “We did a show on Charlie Brown once, and a raccoon walked right onstage and ate one of the peanut butter sandwiches. It got so he waited around backstage for them.

The animals would set off the security alarm in the middle of the night, and Markgraf would have to make a sleepy trek to the tent to make sure no one had stolen anything. The theatre became a money-losing operation by the fifth year when police began fining them for every false alarm.

So when the opportunity to lease the old Hudson railway station arose, Markgraf took it. With a loyal audience behind her, she and her executive board launched a sophisticated fundraising process that raised more than $300,000. Then they received the $100,000 grant from CP Heritage Foundation, one of only six handed out across Canada.

Markgraf had applied for the same CP grant last year, but was refused. This time around, a lot of time and money went into submitting a professional-looking proposal with fancy logos and fancy paper. But in the end, it was probably the enthusiasm of the citizens, who raised $200,000 in private money, that counted most, she says.

“The fact that we were converting an old train station and that community had raised so much money are probably why we got the grant. It showed that they really wanted it.”

Audience development

Many theatres are forced to look to government funding agencies such as the Canada Council or the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec for the bulk of their operational budgets, making them vulnerable to government cutbacks.

The Hudson Village Theatre relies mostly on corporate and other private money, and that is how Markgraf would like it to stay.

It helps a lot that Hudson is generally well off. “Summer theatres don’t usually get government grants anyway,” she said.

“If you rely on getting one and you don’t, then you can’t do a show. My thrust has always been marketing and audience development. The way I see it, public grants are gravy—they help, but I never rely on them.” In fact, the theatre relies on ticket sales and selling advertising in the program.

The Hudson Village Theatre’s 2001 season begins on June 13 with The Melville Boys, a comedy by Norm Foster. For tickets and more information, please call the box office, at 450-458-5361.