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Shantz family doesn’t have to look far to find new owner for historic schoolhouse building

Built in 1867, the old schoolhouse building in St. Jacobs has been used as a theatre by Drayton Entertainment since 1997. Now the company owns the building. [Aneta Rebiszewski]

With fall’s arrival, change is in the air, but that’s not reserved just for the weather. A St. Jacobs historical landmark is being turned over to new owners that will continue the building’s legacy and traditions as the Schoolhouse Theatre is passed on from Mersynergy Charitable Foundation to long-time tenant and partner, Drayton Entertainment.

“We really are honoured to be chosen to continue this legacy and they know it’s in good hands because we have track record of success and it will remain for the use they have intended,” says Alex Mustakas, the artistic director and CEO at Drayton Entertainment.

Jenny Shantz, the executive director of Mersynergy Charitable Foundation, says she’s happy to announce the donation of the Schoolhouse Theatre to Drayton Entertainment.

“It is wonderful to see that its legacy as a home for arts, culture, and community events will continue for many years to come,” she said in announcing the deal this week.

Mersynergy is the charitable offshoot of Mercedes Corp., the Shantz family venture that launched the farmers’ market, outlet mall and much of the development in the village of St. Jacobs. The market lands and associated real estate were sold last year to Schlegel Urban Developments Corp. as the family and private shareholders looked to move out of the investment.

 Among the holdings of Mersynergy was the old schoolhouse, which has been used for artistic purposes for the last couple of decades.       

For many years prior to acquiring the building, Drayton Entertainment was on a “generous lease,” and the organization is honoured to have the space for their performances on a permanent basis, said Mustakas. 

“I think it was the Shantz family way of supporting the arts.”

Usually the company will run shows on a seven-month basis but recently they started by running programs from September until the end of the year, he added.

The theatre company has been using the venue since 1997, with Mustakas recalling the first production they ever ran, Forever Plaid.

“That was a piano and four singers. It creates a real intimate experience. In some cases it feels like the performers are in your living room,” he said with a laugh in reminiscing. Now, 22 years later, he says he’s excited to continue using the space to share the love of arts and entertainment with the community.

With the new owners in place, Shantz said Drayton Entertainment will make great use of the space and will continue building community through its use.

“In addition to the programs they provide, we felt that they would make a great effort to support other community groups who would like an affordable venue to use from time to time.”

The historic building, constructed in 1867, has 100 seats and had been used for community events and for various entertainment shows in the years after its original function. Now the theatre is mainly used by Drayton Entertainment to showcase small comedies, musical reviews and even small musicals. To ensure the venue gets the best use, Mustakas said Drayton Entertainment will be adding an additional production to the theatre in 2020, but added he also wants to ensure the space is still available for community use.

Drayton Entertainment is no stranger to the community, operating the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse as part of its range of venues that includes the original Drayton Festival Theatre, Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge and the Huron County Playhouse, among others.

With the Schoolhouse Theatre now under the company’s umbrella, Mustakas is optimistic about its future.

“I think it’s just the beginning after 22 years,” he said with a laugh.

Drayton Entertainment is now looking to expand the uses of the building, adding new ideas and events.

“We’re just in the planning stages,” he said, noting some early ideas include more youth programming, music shows and community events that will add value to the building.

From one charitable organization to another, the Mersynergy Foundation is founded by the Milo Shantz and Ross Shantz families, who have since then passed down the business to their children. Dating back to the 1980s the family foundation was founded to make donations to various not-for-profit charitable organizations, explains Shantz.

“It’s nice to know that it will continue to live on as a gathering place,” Shantz says on the donation of the historic building.

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