“You can have the best art in the world, right here in your own town, for $20”
Article and image by Bill Hornbostel
The Loft Cinema in Cobourg is closing on August 22, after the Garnett Rogers solo concert.
Ken Prue, the one-man operation behind The Loft, sat down for an interview to talk about the closure.
“The building was sold after roughly four years of trying to sell it,” says Prue. “Two guys bought it who are in the restaurant and bar business in Port Hope and Peterborough, and they’ve decided that they want to refit this space for apartments.”
The Loft is a sixty-seat venue has been showing independent films and bringing in live music to the stage. He says, “This has been my purpose. This has given me structure and purpose and gratification and a little bit of money.”
“I started out in movies, but quickly oriented to live music presentation and became pretty adept at attracting good talent to Cobourg, to this room and to Victoria Hall’s concert hall when I had either bigger acts or acts that had the promise of bigger audiences,” adds Prue.
“I’ve been I’ve been working in this space for eight years now, and I’ve developed a really nice following of regulars who are bemoaning my leaving,” Prue says. “It’s been really gratifying. And I’ve made a lot of nice friendships, and got a lot of positive feedback from people who said that I plugged a cultural gap.”
Prue expands on what that cultural gap is. “I program films that helped me understand the era in which I grew up,” he says. “And my audience is my age, so I know how to talk to my age cohort, and I program films for that cohort. I program films for myself, to tell the truth, and they ended up satisfying the curiosity and the entertainment needs of the rest of the people in my cohort that I been able to reach.”
Prue also talks about the kinds of people in his audience. “A lot of people who are either well-educated or well-traveled, have high expectations from their past life of culture, and now they’ve settled into a retirement routine. Some of them are still traveling vigorously, but lots aren’t. Lots don’t want to travel vigorously anymore, but they still want the culture, and so I’m giving them a variation on that culture.”
The variant on that culture has included collaborating with composer Michael Pepa to bring Les AMIS Concerts to Cobourg. “The musicians who come to play here are salaried with the Toronto Symphony or the National Ballet Orchestra or the Canadian Opera Company,” says Prue.
Prue also talks about screening operas from the Royal Opera House in London, UK, such as Lucia di Lammermoor. “It’s murder and mayhem, rape and suicide, and the audience is little old ladies who love the drama of high opera,” says Prue with a smile.
“I show this as a way of saying, you can have the best art in the world, right here in your own town, for $20,” Prue adds. “And the experience is fabulous, because the Royal Opera House cinematic team have been doing this for several years now and they’ve refined the process and they do an incredible show.”
Prue talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on The Loft. “I was closed for fully nine months of the 24 months that I consider to be peak COVID period,” Prue says. “Financially it really destroyed anything resembling a balance sheet.”
Last year, a group of people banded together as Friends of The Loft and raised enough money to pull The Loft back from the brink, pulling in $25,000 to settle arrears in rent and film royalties. “They kept me alive for these past thirteen months,” says Prue.
COVID also disrupted the film distribution system. “The rules of the game that the seven major film distributors have played by don’t apply anymore,” Prue says. As big movie studios are releasing more films directly to streaming, Prue says, “They’re not letting indie movie theatres get at the stuff that they used to use to make a living.”
Prue talks about the toll The Loft’s closure is taking. “Emotionally, it’s hard, because I’m really attached to the opportunities that curating film gives me to make an emotional connection with a large number of people,” he says.
“But I’ve been trying to understand what Buddhism could teach me for forty years,” continues Prue. “The rules that I learned from 40 years of reading and sitting at the feet of a guru who said, don’t get attached, don’t have big expectations, because everything changes, and things don’t unfold the way you expect. You have to learn to live with what happens, and so that kind of thought discipline is helping me from having a complete collapse.”
While The Loft will close, that won’t be the end for Prue, who has concerts booked at Victoria Hall into next year. “I don’t think I would want to or need to do more than one a month; I’d rather do one really good concert a month than more frequent, but less well attended,” says Prue.
“If I can find a happy balance, and still be a part of that, then I’ll probably feel like I’ve got some purpose,” Prue says. “Idle retirement isn’t advisable. It’s not it’s not good for people.”
How long will Prue continue with those concerts? “Until people stop coming or until I die,” he says, and jokes, “Maybe it’ll coincide!”