Site Analysis of The Phoenix Concert Theatre

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Site: Phoenix Concert Theatre

Location: 410 Sherbourne Street, Toronto, ON M5X 1K2 


The Phoenix Concert Theatre is located on 410 Sherbourne Street in Toronto, Ontario. Generally, the venue acts as a nightclub on the weekends, and a concert venue the remainder of the week ( The concert venue could be described as quaint-looking, with exotic artwork upon the walls, lounge chairs and a marble bar. The club has played host to thousands of artists including, The Rolling Stones, The Tragically Hip, Green Day and Death Cab for Cutie. Likewise, they have hosted a number of significant events, ranging from Canadian Music Week, to the Toronto International Film Festival. Furthermore, they have made available, the option, for guests to host private events, wherein they are given access to DJ services, a sound system and valet parking (


Beginning in the fifties, 410 Sherbourne Street was home to the German-Canadian Club Harmonie. Herein, the club “offered everything form community gatherings to oom-pah bands to ballroom dancing at the address.” For instance, the venue held events such as the Mardi Gras (“Mardi Gras Royalty at The Harmonie Club”). 

Furthermore, in the early eighties, 410 Sherbourne Street had been a dinner theatre, called, “Talk of Toronto” (“Theatre to trade tickets for gifts”), wherein such shows as One Mo’ Time (“Live Theatre Directory”), Dames at Sea (Conlogue) and Boeing, Boeing (“For your night on the town…”) took to the stage. Herein, the transition from a dinner theatre to a dance club occurred in 1984, wherein, Pat Kenny, who already owned several clubs in New York, took it upon himself to open a club in Toronto, called The Diamond (Benson). Initially, The Diamond operated Thursdays through Saturdays, and was first, and foremost, a dance club. The General Manager, Randy Charlton, acknowledged this fact, as he explained in a phone interview, “Essentially, when we opened, we were a dance club…there were occasional concerts, but that wasn’t our main focus during the first year or so” (Benson).  


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Furthermore, the staff aspired to develop a “theatrical, versatile venue with impressive sound and lighting” (Benson). Herein, The Diamond had a large stage that ran along the west wall of the building. As well, there was a balcony that ran overhead, just above the tables, and chairs, that surrounded the stage below. There was also a “sizable DJ booth and a small VIP area,” that was “raised well above the crowd” (Benson). Interestingly, there was a restaurant at the back end of the club, which came to be known as The Grapevine (Benson).

At this particular time, the Sherbourne area was largely residential, and therefore, the staff was forced to deal with various sound complaints. For instance, Charlton stated, “Jack Layton was the riding’s councilor at the time and I think that, in the first six months, I spent more time with him than I did running the club. Eventually, we worked things out, got some support in the neighborhood, and managed to win Jack over. He went from fighting against us to wanting on the guest list to see bands” (Benson). 


General manager Randy Charlton with one time Diamond manager Sharron Robert (credit to

The Diamond had “core resident DJs”, who always attempted to play different types of music, for the diverse crowds. The array of music ranged from rock to hip-hop, house, and R&B. Rawle James, a DJ, who started at The Diamond, recalled playing artists such as, New Order, Depeche Mode, De La Soul and Ten City (Benson). Eventually, the club transitioned from being just a dance club, to also being a hot concert spot, wherein artists such as Alanis Morisette and The Tragically Hip played. Other performers included, David Bowie (Deirdre) and Pink Floyd (Niester). Moreover, the club held important events, such as the Fashion Cares party for AIDs relief (“AIDS week to raise awareness of disease”). 

When the very popular resident DJ Jason “Deko” Steele had parted ways with the club, things went in a negative direction. He said, “Draw your own conclusions, but when I left, the place was at capacity on the weekends and very shortly thereafter the doors were closed forever” (Benson). However, the General Manager, Charleton, believes there is other reasons the club, inevitably, closed. He stated, “The building had been sold the previous year and there was a fair bit of acrimony between the new owners…the lease was up…expired December 27 1990…the owners basically shut us down” (Benson). Regardless of the reason for the club closing, eleven months later it reopened under a different name called, The Phoenix Concert Theatre.


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Similar to The Diamond, The Phoenix Concert Theatre acted as a nightclub on the weekends, and a concert venue the rest of the week. However, in the early 2000s, the club was in the midst of some controversy, which caused them to shut down one of their popular weekend nightclub events. In 2005, there had been three shootings, in a span of a week, which occurred directly outside the building. This prompted them to “pull the plug on Planet Vibe, a ‘very viable and busy’ regular Sunday night rap and hip-hop event”, that had been operating “for the past 14 years” (Powell & Infantry). The club was not forced into doing this, but rather, they felt that it was an appropriate measure they needed to take, in order to ensure that the patrons would feel safe in the venue, as well as outside of it. Previous to this event, the club had been “proud of its reputation for being one of the first clubs in Toronto to feature hip-hop after the music started to break out into the mainstream in the early ‘90s” (Powell & Infantry). Despite this controversy the club has been able to prevail, as they continue to host various events and concerts, such as, The Tragically Hip in 2006 (Wagner), Melanie Chisholm of the Spice Girls in 2008 (Rayner), and more recently, Classified, The Pretty Reckless, Mayday Parade and Cher Lloyd in 2013 (


In the article entitled, “Music and Musicking” by Christopher Small, he states, “Music is not a thing at all but an activity, something that people do” (2). In other words, “The fundamental nature and meaning of music lie not in objects, not in musical works at all, but in action, in what people do. It is only by understanding what people do as they take part in a musical act that we can hope to understand its nature and the function it fulfills in human life” (8). In this sense, the only way we can begin to grasp how sound and music have been employed at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, is to look at the way in which people have experienced such, within that particular space.

This notion of space, in relation to music and sound is significant, in that it establishes the type of reaction that will be embraced by the people privy to it.  In other words, an individual’s reaction to certain sounds and music is directly correlated as to the manner in which they are experiencing it. For instance, in the article entitled “Noisy” by Emily Cockayne, she acknowledges the fact that “noise made at night” is “more likely to disturb,” than noises made during the day (107). In this sense, one might deduce that music being played loudly in the suburbs, is a greater disturbance than music being played in a club downtown, wherein everything is always more lively anyway. This notion is reinforced by Cockayne, as she goes on to write, “The night-time economy boomed in the cities” (107).

Moreover, the very physical appearance of the venue, in terms of the way things are set up, further influences the way in which people experience the music, and therefore, it is to our benefit to briefly focus upon this. The Phoenix Concert Theatre is eighteen thousand square feet, and is comprised of three distinct rooms. The first room, called The Main Room, features five bars, “one of the city’s largest dance floors” and a “twenty by thirty foot stage.” As well, it has a “ten foot retractable projection screen” ( The second room is called The Le Loft Room, which overlooks The Main Room. The most distinct feature of the room is the “overhanging balcony, which stretches the entire width of the club” ( Other features include a bar, lounge seating, and artwork. Lastly, the third room is called The Parlour Room, which is separate from the previous two rooms. It has its own sound and lighting system, as well as its own dance floor (

Herein, one example of the way upon which a musical venue influences a patron’s experience, is through the placement of the stage. During the era of The Diamond, the placement of the stage was meant to generate intimacy between the audience and the performers. The general manager, Randy Charleton, had stated, “We had the stage along the (west) side because we felt that made it more intimate. People almost formed a semi-circle around the stage and everybody was really close to the artists” (Benson). Furthermore, in an interview I conducted with an interviewee named Sabina, she acknowledged the way upon which this feeling of intimacy in a venue had positively altered her experience with the music, as she stated, “I feel a deeper and more emotional connection to the music when I am physically closer to the artist. When I am at a venue like the ACC and I’m sitting in the upper level it is easy to become blasé, but when I’m standing in a small crowd only a couple feet away from the artist the music takes hold of me.” I then went on to ask Sabina if she had experienced this particular feeling while at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, to which she responded, “Yes. I really like the size of the building. I like that it’s neither cramped nor too big. You have space to move around but you also feel close to the artist.” This was further reinforced during my second interview with an interviewee named Corey, wherein I asked him to list his likes and dislikes of the club. Interestingly, the first ‘like’ he had on his list was that it is “an intimate hall… even if you’re at the back of the venue you still feel close.”

Another instance of the way upon which the Phoenix Concert Theatre has encouraged certain activities and experiences from its patrons, is through the absence of tables and chairs in the Main Room. The only way one could potentially sit is by leaning upon the rails, situated near the side of the stage. In this manner, the venue requires the patrons to be standing, in order to encourage the act of dancing. In other words, they clearly came to the realization that if people had the option to sit while on the main level, the atmosphere would be considerably more subdued, as people would be less likely to dance and engage with the performers. Moreover, the fact that the bars are situated to the sides of the dance floor, as opposed to the middle, is another way of encouraging the patrons to dance, as it lends them the space to do so. Put another way, if there was a bar in the middle of the dance floor, one can only imagine how much more difficult it would be for people to dance. Not only would there be a constant flow of traffic in that area, but also, it would split the audience in two halves, wherein one group would remain behind the bar, and the other in front of it. This would significantly alter the atmosphere, as it would be too chaotic, and therefore, would be less focused on the performance that is occurring.

Evidently, this is precisely the reason the Phoenix Concert Theatre did not set up their venue in this manner. Rather, they recognized that by leaving the dance floor open in the way that they have, they are encouraging participation, which they realize is a significant component in having a successful concert. In the article entitled, “Music and Musicking” by Christopher Small, he touches upon the significance of audience participation through his concept of musicking. He describes musicking as taking part “in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composing), or by dancing” (9). In other words, Small believes that music is not simply a performance, but rather, a combination of elements coming together, including the participation of an audience within that performative space. In this manner, by leaving space available for people to dance, the Phoenix Concert Theatre is making possible, audience participation, as they know that audiences are not simply passive, but rather, a contributing factor in the creation of a lively and intimate space. This notion was further reinforced in my interview with Sabina, as she stated, “I think that when I go to a venue for music, I want to feel alive and a part of a group. When the vibe is active, as it has been, you connect more, not only with the band but also with the audience.”

Furthermore, the placement of the media within the venue is significant, as it is another determining factor, upon the way in which the patrons will experience the music. In simpler terms, the way that the media is situated is meant to emphasize the central feature of the venue, which are the performers on the stage. It is no coincidence that the lights are situated just above the stage, while the screen projector is situated right behind it. They are there for the purpose of directing our attention away from the people around us, and toward the music. This is further reinforced by the fact that the remainder of the venue is so barely lit. In this way, not only does the venue’s space encourage you to dance, but also, it encourages you to stand in a certain direction. Evidently, one can easily experience the music without facing the stage. However, by not facing the stage, one goes against the structure of the space, which makes such space seem awkward and unnatural, when in reality, it is not.

What is interesting about the manner the Phoenix Concert Theatre is set up is that it has been successful in creating two distinct atmospheres. As stated above, the Main Room has encouraged patrons to do two things. Firstly, it has encouraged the patrons to stand on the dance floor, and secondly, it has directed their attention and bodies toward the stage, with the assistance of the lights and screen projector. In this manner, the Main Room has created an atmosphere that is lively and unifies the audience and the performers. However, the second level of the venue called the Le Loft Room has a different functionality, and subsequently, a different atmosphere. In the upper level there are lounge chairs and tables for people to use, therefore, while patrons are still able to see the stage, (albeit further away), and participate in the music, not so to the same extent on the main level. This notion relates to a concept brought forth by John Sterne in the article entitled, “Sounds like the Mall of America.” In the article, he discusses this notion of foreground and background, in relation to the Mall of America. He explains that the music played in the mall “tends to pass in and out of the foreground of a listener’s consciousness” (25), whereas, the background tends to strive “toward anonymity” (32). In this sense, one can make the claim that the first floor of the Phoenix Concert Theatre leans toward the categorization of “foreground”, while the second floor leans toward the categorization of “background”. The music on the main level can be categorized as foreground, in that, due to the way the space is structured, one is driven to focus solely upon the music. On the other hand, the music on the second level can be categorized as background, in a sense, as the combination of chairs, tables and bar, sparks a greater social situation, than what is going on below. Therefore, the music is less the focus. For instance, if I am on the main level, I am without a doubt, facing the direction of the stage, and I am either standing, or dancing. On the second level, I might not be facing the stage. Instead, I might be sitting at a table and having a conversation with a friend. I could be glancing every so often at the stage below, but there is a higher possibility that my attention will be placed elsewhere. In this way, the music would become background noise.  

Lastly, the placement of the sound system is significant in terms of the way upon which it compliments this split between the lower and upper level of the venue. The fact that there are only two speakers mounted on opposite sides of the stage is helpful, in that it makes it possible for people to socialize on the balcony. If there were additional speakers in the Le Loft Room, it would contradict the set up of the room, which is essentially a lounging area. This notion is further reinforced by a patron, who states, “Sound is great here, I’ve not had an issue with the quality of that impacting on my enjoyment of a show at all. Space-wise, there’s quite a bit – a massive large space downstairs where everyone just lumps in together, and a smaller area on a balcony upstairs which is more casual and there’s some seating; not ideal for actually watching a show, more loitering and listening” ( The fact that the speakers are further away makes this relaxed atmosphere possible. However, this is not to say that the music is not loud enough on the upper level, that one cannot hear it. On the contrary, patrons are quite happy with the sound. For instance, one patron commented, “Ear plugs. Bring them. You will need them. The sound quality will rock your world. Bands sound different from the main floor compared to the upper level so try both to see which you prefer” ( While another said, “The sound was amazing! I could hear every instrument and even through my ear plugs (dorky, I know) it was still a good volume” ( Thus, it is apparent that the Phoenix Concert Theatre set up the sound system in such a manner as to compliment the atmospheres they have formulated. As well, the set up of the sound system has allowed for such activities as socializing, to occur on the upper level. It is important to note that there is a separate sound system in the room that is on the upper level, but closed off from the balcony. Due to the fact that this room is closed off from the rest of the venue it requires its own sound system, for if they were to use the one on the main level, the sound would be muffled and incoherent. 

Work Cited

“AIDS week to raise awareness of disease.” Toronto Star 28 May 1987: A8. Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

Benson, Denise. “Then & Now: The Diamond Club.” The Grid TO. Toronto Star, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

Burdo, Sabina. Personal Interview. 28 Nov. 2013.

Cockayne, Emily. “Noisy.” Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 1600-1770: Yale University Press, 2007. 106-130.

Conlogue, Ray. “Theatre.” The Globe and Mail [Toronto] 8 May 1982: F4. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail (1844 – 2010). Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

Deirdre, Kelly. “Bowie’s hew image takes to ‘the streets’.” The Globe and Mail [Toronto] 18 Mar. 1987: C1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail (1844 – 2010). Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

“For Your Night on the Town.” The Globe and Mail [Toronto] 27 Aug. 1981: 17. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail (1844 – 2010). Web. 29 Nov. 2013.

Katz, Corey. Personal Interview. 27 Nov. 2013.

“Live Theatre directory.” The Globe and Mail [Toronto] 29 June 1983: 22. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail (1844 – 2010). Web. 25 Nov. 2013

“Mardi Gras Royalty at the Harmonie Club.” The Globe and Mail [Toronto] 17 Nov. 1967: 12. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail (1844 – 2010). Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

Niester, Alan. “Diamond whoops it up on sixth anniversary.” The Globe and Mail [Toronto] 10 Apr. 1990: A18. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail (1844 – 2010). Web. 29 Nov. 2013.

“Phoenix Concert Theatre.” Phoenix Concert Theatre. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2013

“Phoenix Concert Theatre.” Streets. TO: Toronto Restaurant & Hospitality Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.

“Phoenix Concert Theatre.” Yelp. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.

Powell, Betsy, and Ashante Infantry. “Shootings mark the end of Sunday night event; Fearing violence, club cancels ‘busy’ hip-hop event 14-year run ends with shootings of three men.” Toronto Star 17 Aug. 2005: A09. Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.

Rayner, Ben. “No rock arenas for this solo Spice, but ‘I just love to perform’.” Toronto Star 8 May 2008: E1. Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.

Small, Christopher. “Prelude: Music and Musicking.” Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1998. 1-18.

Sterne, Jonathan. “Sounds like the Mall of America: Programmed Music and the Architectonics of Commercial Space.” The Society of Ethnomusicology 41 (1997): 22-50. JSTOR. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.

“Theatre to trade tickets for gifts.” The Globe and Mail [Toronto] 18 Dec. 1981: 17. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail (1844 – 2010). Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

Wagner, Vit. “Rare club shoe enthrall the Hip’s fans.” Toronto Star 24 Oct. 2006: C6. Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.