How Vancouver's theatre scene operates
With more than 30 local theatre companies, and over 20 venues, including some of the most popular stages such as The Cultch, Presentation House and the familiar and well-beloved BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts, the local theatre scene in Vancouver is thriving.
Opening its doors in 1973, The Cultch, formally known as the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, has since been running as one of Vancouver’s most diverse arts and performance centres, offering multiple entertainment spaces within the one location. The centres include three theatrical venues, a gallery and multiple additional spaces within East Vancouver. The spaces include the original venue, The Historic Theatre (1973), Vancity Culture Lab (2009), York Theatre (2013) and the newly reopened Greenhouse, offering programming in contemporary entertainment including theatre, music, dance, and the visual arts.
According to The Cultch, their purpose is “to provide a venue for performance that serves a diverse and engaged public and provides space for artistic experimentation and development, building an audience for local companies and presenting cutting-edge national and international work.”
North Vancouver’s own Presentation House Theatre opened its doors in 1976 as the Presentation House Arts Centre. The idea of having a centre came from Anne MacDonald, the first board member to be a part of the arts centre. Her idea was to have a space for residents of the North Shore to create and showcase art, both visual and performance-based. Previously a city hall and police station for the community, the then vacant and dormant space was brought to life by artists through generous community donations, and the space was handed over to become the arts centre it is today, booking mainly community-based shows, supporting the local theatre scene.
Across town, Capilano University’s BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts opened in October of 1997, as a necessary facility for the ever-evolving performing arts programs at the University. Now also serving as a venue open to other university departments and wider community users, the venue books everything from wide musical varieties including vocal, classical, jazz and world music, to both professional and student theatre productions, to speaker series, and onwards.
CapU, continuously supporting the developing local theatre scene in Vancouver, offers many program options for those looking to pursue a career in the entertainment field. Programs such as the Technical Theatre Diploma, and the entire Arts and Entertainment Management department, allow individuals who are interested in getting into entertainment, to expand their knowledge of the field, and gain the experience to work at institutions such as The Cultch, Presentation House and BlueShore.
Whether you’re looking for a family-appropriate activity or a date night, theatre always makes for a nice evening out. For audience members, watching the performance is a way to kick their feet up; for the actors, the productions are a chance to do what they love. But there are also some big guns behind the scenes making the whole production run smoothly, let alone run at all, managing stressful tasks.
Communications Associate at The Cultch, and current CapU Arts and Entertainment Management student, Lisa Mennell, feels connections to her career in the field, working with the media and helping to find publicity for the institution’s shows. “Working in a performing arts venue is quite wonderful. I am particularly passionate about the arts, and it means a lot to be helping present and promote work that I feel is meaningful and important. It is a lot of work, and the team works very hard to coordinate with everyone involved,” said Mennell.
“The best part of running a local theatre is being a part of community building, networking, sharing ideas and finding creative ways to meet and overcome challenges collectively.”
Kim Selody, Artistic Director at Production house agrees with Mennell’s claim that the field is hard work, drawing connections to his experience with the company. “There have been a lot of changes in the last 10 years of how people consume their performance experiences. It’s stressful, and it’s deceptively simple,” said Selody, giving his honest opinion on what it’s like working for an entertainment venue. “With the Internet becoming more present, things have shifted dramatically. People are now booking at the last minute because they can book online. That means we often don’t know exactly how many people are going to show up until the last minute, so that can be very nerve-raking, as you don’t know how things are going to go, especially since it takes so much money to put on a show. It’s difficult to add up the predicted revenue, which helps to gain sponsorships.”
General Manager of BlueShore, Sandra McRae, can also testify to the high-stress atmosphere. “Every day is different. You must always be prepared for last minute changes and/or omissions,” said McRae. “There aren’t enough days in the week. We are very busy and could use way more resources – human and capital. It can be a very high stress job.”
On top of booking shows, an important aspect of running entertainment venues is managing the financial side of the business. How do these venues afford to operate, exactly? Most rely on donations from sponsors and donors, on top of ticket sales. “Often, the cost of putting on a show is much greater than the revenue that it can generate; we depend on government subsidies and private sponsorships to help us make the formula work. And in order to gain those subsidies we have to prove that we have a social benefit that we give to the community, which is why we have a lot of add-on activities, and focus on programming work that we know will have an impact on the community,” said Selody of Presentation House. While most rely on donors, McRae finds funding in today’s cutthroat theatre funding environment, especially pertaining to meeting the University’s needs and demands, with help from the University itself. “It is a difficult one here, especially with so much of our usage allocated to the University’s needs, it becomes challenging to attract ‘rentals’ – which is where we make our money. Ticket sales are a good source of revenue, when performances require tickets; a lot of our stuff is free,” said McRae.
While working for local theatre companies can often be strenuous, there comes benefits to each individual in the career field. Mennell finds connections to those that she assists in showcasing. “In my opinion, the best part of being involved in the running of an art venue is getting to be a part of supporting something important and worthwhile, and getting to showcase the amazing work of local, Canadian and International artists,” said Mennell. “I would say that it is true that the industry is not at all boring. Every day is a different day, which is exciting. It can be very rewarding emotionally and spiritually to be constantly engaged in an activity that’s trying to help people get on, or understand their community better.” said Selody. “The best part of running a local theatre is being a part of community building, networking, sharing ideas and finding creative ways to meet and overcome challenges collectively,” said McRae. “Being immersed in art and culture is an absolute joy. Working to administer art and working with artists and students to promote their craft is a privilege. The industry is filled with amazing, creative people who work really hard to pull off the impossible. It’s all worth it!”
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