Local theatre troupe opens its very own stage, a home for other small-scale acts around Edmonton
After years of hustling and moving three buildings, a local theatre troupe can get their nose—wait for it—to the grindstone, hosting shows in their new home.
Grindstone Theatre, the poorly-punned troupe mentioned above, open their eponymously named venue on April 5. It’s been a long time coming for its founders.
The troupe has been around since 2011, but its founder and artistic director Byron Martin began poking around for more permanent spaces two years ago.
Last January, the troupe signed a lease for the space above Block 1912, which fell through last minute with the province’s safety codes. They raised around $20,000 to renovate the small venue on Kickstarter, prior to the setback. They’d also looked at some old movie theatres above Westmount Mall, but the setup didn’t seem central enough.
“We had to start all over again,” Martin says. “It was back to the drawing board.”
They finally made an offer on a small site off Whyte, previously an Old Hippy Wood Products (the company is still the landlord of the site).
The Grindstone sports 75 seats in front of its stage and a separate bar/restaurant. The troupe’s goal is to provide a stage to smaller theatre acts. The venue will house 30 independent producing artists, which represents 14 shows per week. This includes Grindstone’s in-house, flagship production the 11 O’clock Number, a musical improv show which hasn’t started at 11 pm in some time.
“The building is really built off the Fringe model of ‘Bring Your Own Venue,’ where you have multiple producers working out of the same building, putting on multiple one-hour shows back-to-back,” Martin says.
This also means the location—walkable to and from Whyte—was particularly important to the company. Going forward, they hope to be part of the Fringe. Also, it didn’t make much sense to build a venue downtown, a turf already covered by Rapid Fire Theatre.
“They’re planning on building an improv theatre downtown anyway,” he says.
Prior to this, Grindstone Theatre moved around a bit. In 2011, after Rapid Fire Theatre moved downtown, they took up shop in the Varscona—where the 11 O’clock Number was born. They used the veteran venue as a staging ground for tours, shows, and classes before renovations began, and Grindstone followed the Varscona to the Backstage Theatre. From there, it moved to the Sun and Moon Visionaries Theatre. When construction finished on the new Varscona site, its runners cancelled late night programming so Grindstone, penultimately, moved to the basement of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
The venue’s official ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place on April 5, and features a performance by the 11 O’clock Number. The night ends off with a party, set to the music of a “surprise DJ,” a press release from the troupe says.
Friday will feature performances from 10 other acts, including the 11 O’clock Number, Mixtape, and yegDND, and will be followed by a Sophie B. Hawkins dance. On the closing Saturday, the venue will host a Sketch Comedy Showcase, whose lineup includes Blackout Sketch Comedy, Girl Brain, Don’t Not Talk to Strangers, among others. A nu-disco dance party, hosted by DJ Joses Martin, will close out the opening celebrations.
The venue opens at 5 pm from Tuesday to Sunday for dinner. Local chef Phan Au designed the menu, whose naming conventions harken back to old comedies and Edmonton oddities, which pairs a lineup of cocktails created with Strathcona Spirits.
With its new digs, Grindstone hopes to branch out from its former, somewhat transient life.
“It’s always been an improv-based company, but I’ve always been interested, as an actor, to have a broader scope,” Martin says, adding that the theatre now produces some modern and Shakespearean plays. “We don’t wanna just do improv. We wanna write shows, we wanna do Shakespeare, we wanna do sketch comedy.”
Grindstone Theatre Opening Events
Apr. 5 – 7, starting at 6 pm
The Grindstone, 10018 81 Ave
$10, available at