The two largest theatre companies in Vancouver are combining forces as part of a new “theatrical hub” proposed for Southeast False Creek.
A report going before Vancouver city council next week recommends Bard on the Beach and the Arts Club as not-for-profit tenants in a 44,000-square-foot space at 162 West 1st Avenue.
Howard Jang, the executive director of the Arts Club, said the theatre company is “bursting at the seams” when it comes to production space. The group, which produced 20 shows last year, has just one rehearsal hall, and has been renting various spaces around the city.
“The idea of rehearsing three or four different shows at the same time was near impossible,” he told the Straight by phone.
“We knew very much back in the 2007 strategic plan that we needed to address this, and we’ve been on the hunt to figure out how to do this since 2007.”
As part of the proposed hub, the Arts Club plans to relocate its Revue Stage programming to a new, 250-seat theatre in the West 1st Avenue building.
Jang said the theatre company had a sense that its landlord at the Revue Stage could eventually expand the Granville Island market and potentially take back the space.
“We knew eventually this would all happen, so we kind of always had it in the back of our mind,” he said. “And then this opportunity came up.”
As part of the staff recommendations, council is also being asked to approve a capital grant of up to $7 million for the new space, which was allocated for cultural use as part of a $7.6-million community amenity contribution by the Wall Financial Corporation.
“By supporting the recommendations in this report, the City will support a partnership with the two largest theatre companies in Western Canada that have the capacity to develop and sustainably operate what will become a substantive performing arts facility,” the report reads.
The space, which was originally intended for the now-defunct Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, occupies the first two floors of two towers in the condo development across from The Village on False Creek. Ownership of the space is expected to be transferred to the city by mid-November. Staff are recommending two separate leases with the Arts Club and Bard on the Beach for a term of sixty years and a “nominal rent” of $10.
The lease with Bard on the Beach would see the theatre company take over 16,300 square feet of the space for rehearsal halls, an office and a costume shop, while the Arts Club plans to use about 32,000 square feet for the new theatre, green rooms, a lobby, props and costumes, storage, rehearsal halls and offices. The space-use plan for the venue includes 4,394 square feet of infill that would allow two additional rehearsal spaces.
The two theatre companies were selected following an open application process conducted in the summer of 2012. First Pacific Theatre Society was originally a third partner in the joint proposal, but decided not to proceed with tenanting the space in late 2012, according to the staff report.
As part of the proposal, the facility will become home to 80 to 150 staff, and will feature co-operative programming, theatre and rehearsal rentals, costume and prop shops, and expanded public and youth programming.
“Enabling Arts Club and Bard to develop and operate a new collaborative ‘theatrical hub’ that includes a vibrant community program and services that will be shared with the broader community offers a rare opportunity to transform Vancouver’s theatre infrastructure,” the staff report reads. “Arts Club and Bard have the operational and financial capacity to develop and sustainably run the proposed space and provide a significant community benefit.”
The total cost of the space, including the $7.6 million community amenity contribution, is valued at $20.4 million, according to the city report. The $7 million being recommended in capital funding is expected to help leverage additional infrastructure funding from senior levels of government and private donors.
Jang described the new space in the Southeast False Creek building as “just stunning”. He estimates that if the theatre companies get the approval and funding necessary to move ahead with the facility, the timeline for turning the venue into a theatre and cultural space will be about 20 months.
He noted that part of the plan for the building is to make the theatre and other amenities available for rentals during part of the year—something he thinks will be a “tremendous opportunity” for the arts community.
“I think it’s going to be in great demand,” said Jang. “There’s a lot of small to mid-sized theatre companies that have an opportunity to really build a home. So our plan…is that it will be available to community, and not just the theatre, but rehearsal spaces, production space, meeting spaces. We really do want to make it a hub and make it a theatre centre.”
Council is scheduled to vote on the recommendations next Tuesday (November 5).