The Seville: a Phantasmagoria

Skills: community engagement, gentrification, public interventions, site-responsive performance, urban scenography

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The Seville Theatre was built by architect Joseph Cajetan Dufort and opened its doors to Montrealers in 1929. The Seville was one of the first theatres designed in the atmospheric style in Montreal, and one of only fifteen of its kind in North America. The interior decoration was designed by Emmanual Briffa (known for his work in other Montreal theatres such as the Rialto and the Corona). 

When the Seville opened, the movie palace offered theatrical performances and film screenings, and towards the end of the 1940s, the cinema also became a venue and concert hall for performing live popular music. The Seville was a landmark in downtown’s Shaughnessy’s village, however, with the neighborhood’s economic and commercial decline beginning in the 1980s, the Seville closed its doors in 1985 and sat abandoned for 25 years. In 1990 the building was declared by the city of Montreal as a heritage site for its architectural value. Despite this designation what remained of the Seville was demolished in 2010 to make room for the development of a commercial and condominium project called Le Seville – a development aimed at revitalizing what had become a socially and economically marginalized neighbourhood. Le Seville was never realized. A Starbucks now occupies the corner of rue Ste. Catherine and Chomedey where The Seville Theatre once stood.  

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The Seville: a Phantasmagoria, invited viewers into a virtually ‘real’ encounter with the spectres of Montreal’s Seville Theatre. A scenographic intervention, the project focused on the former site of the Seville Theatre and its physical absence from the built environment. I use binocular imaging and VR glasses to create a contemporary theatron – literally meaning the place of ‘viewing’ and from the Greek verb theasthai, to ‘behold’  to evoke a theatre of witnessing and memory by drawing from the Seville Theatre’s cultural landscape, as it has been remembered and described by many of its patrons in blog posts, press clippings, and advertising ephemera.

 The project was conceived for Promenade parlante: Episodes in a Changing Neighbourhood, a series of audio-visual installations and performances that communicate senior Montrealers’ experiences of urban change in Shaughnessy Village. This project was a collaboration between a group of seniors, myself, Eric Craven (Community Development Librarian and coordinator of the Atwater Library’s Digital Literacy Project), and Dr Cynthia Hammond (Director of Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling), and was been made possible through a Partnership Engage Grant, from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

 

Photo: Lise Graves ©2019

Photos: Lisa Graves © 2019