School District and Arts Council have competing visions for the Community Theatre

By David F. Rooney

When the inclusion of a “Community Theatre” inside the new high school was first announced in 2009 it seemed the perfect solution to a serious problem facing the local arts community: the lack of a professional venue for plays and concerts.

However, that attitude has changed radically over the last several months. Arts groups you think would benefit from it are deeply concerned that, as it stands right now, the Community Theatre will be too expensive for them to use. They also say that because School District 19 appears intent on operating the theatre “off the side of someone’s desk” it’s unlikely to be operated in a professional manner.

“A space like this needs to be at the top of somebody’s priority list,” says Revelstoke Arts Council Chairwoman Carol Palladino. “It’s not something you can do off the side of your desk.”

But that’s what it seems is about to happen.

The Arts Council, which has been talking with the School District for months, believes our educators do not really comprehend what is involved. The Community Theatre could be a huge boon for Revelstoke. Palladino says that while the school district does plan to use the theatre space several times a year it could — and should — be a venue that attracts touring plays, musicals, concerts and other events year-round.

Palladino said the Arts Council offered to manage the theatre for the school district or help it find someone with experience and expertise to manage the space. Whoever manages it would have to establish a marketing plan and website, seek every available grant and think about ticketing systems, pricing and more — much more.

“… start small and grow from there.”

“The Community Theatre is the property of the School District,” says SD 19 Superintendent Anne Cooper. “We need to make sure we’re going to start small and grow from there.”

That may be true, say Arts Council members, but the School District does not have the either the experience or the expertise to run a real theatre.

They point to the experience of schools in West Vancouver and Kelowna, which also have community theatres. In those cities, outside agencies operate the theatres on behalf of the boards. (Please click here to read the West Vancouver agreement and click here to read the Kelowna agreement.)

The Arts Council passed copies of those agreements to the School District last year and suggested a similar arrangement could work here. To date, there has been no response to those suggestions.

What there has been is a decision by the school district to form an “advisory committee.” Headed by School Board Chairman Alan Chell, it would include Anne Cooper, RSS Principal Mike Hooker and a member of the district’s staff. They are to be counterbalanced by four appointees from the Arts Council and a rep from the City’s Economic Develoment Commission. (Please click here to read about the advisory committee.)

Their first order of business would be to ratify a proposed management plan created by the School Board. (Please click here to read the proposed management plan.)

At a board meeting last Monday (February 20) the Arts Council voted to join the advisory committee but they flatly refused to endorse the management plan which — among other things — confirms the school district as the manager of the theatre. The committee would set policies and fees and there in lies another problem.

Fees too high for community groups

The proposed fees — $600/night for independent for-profit groups, $400/day for conferences and $300/night for non-profit groups with ticket sales — will strangle the city’s community-based performing arts groups, says Lyn Kaulback, one of the Theatre Company’s leaders.

“$300 a night?” she asked rhetorically during the Arts Council board meeting. $We wouldn’t make that during a whole series of performances when we were at Mount Mackenzie,” she said.

Kaulback also took issue with a series of other fees that are to be tacked onto that base fee. Those are, she said, additional costs for use of the orchestra pit, concession area, per-head maintenance fees and a $50 rehearsal fee based on a three-hour rehearsal.

“We can’t afford that,” Kaulback said.

It’s unlikely that the Community Band and Community Choir could afford that either.

Kaulback, Palladino and other Arts Council directors wonder how the School Board arrived at those fees because, as far as they know, the board doesn’t know how much it will cost to operate the theatre.

“It’s like they plucked those figures out of thin air,” said one director.

The fees issue is a make-or-break one for the Theatre Company and, possibly, for the band and the choir, too. So much so, in fact, that the Theatre Company is quietly looking for other an alternative venue for the Theatre BC’s Kootenay Zone Festival set for May.

How is all of this going to be resolved?

Who knows? The School Board is very good at achieving its goals in education… but it may be biting off more than it can chew. Goals in marketing, entertainment and theatre management are not at all the same.

Certainly, though, there is plenty to discuss and, truth be told, most of the issues mentioned above should have been discussed at least two or three years ago.

A brief bit of background

Until about 2007, the Revelstoke Theatre Company had performed at the Mackenzie Playhouse space it had created inside the original ski lodge built at the base of Mount Mackenzie. But that space was doomed the moment Premier Gordon Campbell, Mayor Mark McKee and RMR’s owners signed the resort’s Master Development Agreement in 2005.

There were other, albeit very modest, performance spaces available, such as the United Church, the Regent Inn’s Traverse Lounge and the Visual Arts Centre. And the company was grateful for them, as were the other community-based performance groups such as the Community Band and the Community Choir, which also relied on them.

Then, in the summer of 2009, the arts community began discussing the possibility of purchasing Mountain View School from School District 19 and transforming it into an all-inclusive visual and performing arts centre.

The ad hoc committee formed to explore that possibility had only met a few times when the Community Theatre project was announced in November.

Interest in renovating Mountain View evaporated overnight as Revestokians applauded this new vision of a performance space for community groups.

But now, in light of the disagreements over the Community Theatre’s management plan and fee structure, some are wondering if that plan shouldn’t be dusted off and re-examined.