Repeated acts of suspected vandalism involving Wolfville’s iconic Acadia theatre sign has added up to a hefty price tag for the organization running the theatre.
Al Whittle Theatre cinema manager Mary Harwell says repair costs have reached nearly $5,000 since 2012, with the latest round of damage in January.
Harwell says almost every incident results in damage to the sign’s pointed front, where lower-hanging lights are typically the ones broken.
“They aren’t breaking on their own – there’s no way anything in nature would break the lights the way they’re broken. It’s like people jump up and hits them with something,” she says.
The cinema is owned and operated by Harwell and the Acadia Cinema Cooperative, which relit the sign in 2004. It foots the bill each time a bulb is broken and has fully repaired the sign since the January damage.
The sign is managed by Chris Siefert, who contracts a Halifax company to create a custom-made neon light replacement. It’s no small feat, as Siefert says the company must carefully heat and bend each piece just so, and take care not to make the glass too thin.
Harwell says each round of fixes costs the cooperative between $300 and $500.
“Neon is more of an artform, I’d say, more than it is a lighting source. It’s not cheap because it’s a complicated process, so it makes me sad that we’ve had this ongoing problem,” says Siefert.
She has never caught someone in the act of vandalizing the sign but says it could easily happen during the theatre’s more discreet hours after 10 p.m., when the neon is turned off.
This is why she believes it can take several days before damage is noted.
The cooperative is now looking at installing added security features, like cameras, and is meeting with Siefert to consider installing a plexiglass-type cover over the sign’s front end.
And Siefert, who’s worked with neon signs for nearly four decades, is eager to look at ways to protect what he calls one of the last remaining marquees in the province.
“It’s quite a rarity – it really is. It’s the old style, where you’re going back to that classic neon marquee. It’s an icon, and these signs are few and far between now,” he says.