New ADSS Theatre opens in Port Alberni
Friday morning my wife Patricia and myself entered the freshly finished ADSS Theatre in Port Alberni as invited guests at the Official Grand Opening of the community’s new high school. As a retired member of the school’s staff and having been a member of Alberni Valley Performing Arts Committee in 2008, it was an exhilarating moment.
The performing arts committee was created following the Alberni School District #70’s success, after years of lobbying trying to convince the provincial government that the community’s high school needed to be drastically upgraded or replaced. However, a crisis for the performing arts community ensued when it was decided the new school would be built on property many blocks north of where the old school had stood since the mid-1950s. Attached to the school was a 1000-seat auditorium. The concern being, would it be torn down along with the rest of the old school buildings?
The committee, which was made up of representatives of local performing arts user groups, the city council and the school board, set a mandate to determine if any community agency was willing to take on the responsibility for preserving, upgrading and maintaining the existing auditorium as a stand-alone facility. To the arts community members it wasn’t rocket science to conclude that it would take someone with very deep pockets to upgrade and maintain such a large aging facility.
The committee’s second mandate was to determine if community support could be generated to construct a new performing arts centre, either as a stand-alone facility or in conjunction with the new ADSS school. With help from theatre consultant Sandra Thompson, who had been involved with the construction of Nanaimo’s 800-seat Port Theatre, it soon became clear that building a similar facility in Port Alberni would cost well in excess of ten million dollars.
The Alberni Valley had, over the years with taxpayer support, constructed wonderful sport facilities. However, with the downturn in the forest industry we realized a city referendum for a performance theatre, akin to one that had seen a new hockey rink recently constructed, would have little chance of success. I recall writing on my blog at the time a quote from Peter Gzowski’s hockey book The Game of Our Lives in which a chapter was dedicated to the unique talents of Wayne Gretsky. Gzowski wrote, “the joy of it all is that we have found him, that the game is so much a part of our lives that when a Wayne Gretzky is born we will find him. The sorrow is that there may also be Wayne Gretzkys of the piano or the paintbrush who, because we expose our young to hockey so much more than to the arts, we will never hear about.” I digress.
I was at this point becoming quite discouraged. It was becoming clear I had to accept the inevitable. The community would lose the old auditorium that had served the valley performing arts so well for over 50-years and likely it would be replaced in the new school with a multi purpose classroom.
Suddenly a ray of sunshine appeared. At one of the committee meetings the school board representative brought the news that funds expected from the sale of the property on which the old school stood could be earmarked towards a theatre in the new school. Although one or two citizens urged me in letters-to-the-editor to the AV Times not to abandon my original hopes that the ADSS Auditorium be saved, I’d come to the conclusion that the costs of preserving the old structure were obviously prohibitive and with no local arts group willing to own and run the original auditorium independently, a compromise was offered as a way forward. Taking into account available funds and some creative planning by the architect, a 500-seat configuration was affordable.
Decreasing the number of seats from a 700 or 800 configuration meant it would be unprofitable for a national or international star with high fees to play the theatre. However, the majority of committee members felt that the benefits of having a fitting performance venue for student and community productions plus the potential visiting professional groups who would book a 500-seat theatre, far outweighed not having a proper theatre with a raked floor as part of the new school.
In my opinion supporting a 500-seater under the circumstances was not only the right choice, but, the only choice. Port Alberni now has a state-of-the-art theatre that will serve the school and the local artistic community and their audiences for years to come. For all those involved in pursuing the goal that a proper theatre be part of the new school, I suggest a standing ovation is in order, to celebrate this wonderful achievement.
Unfortunately we had to leave at the end of the ceremony and missed the luncheon. I had to scoot back over the hump to play an afternoon performance of the Yellowpoint Christmas Spectacular and Pat had a number of piano students waiting for her return. More on our Christmas concerts in my next blog.
Photos from the Open House:
Photo above: The new ADSS Theatre chamber has comfortable soft seating with wide access to seats, a large stage area with an extensive apron, sizeable dressing rooms plus state-of-the-art lighting and digital sound system. My personal preference would have been an open sound booth at the back as it will be difficult for those running the equipment to hear exactly what the audience is hearing. Currently there is only one sliding window in the booth and consideration will need to be given to, at the very least, getting the other two windows to slide open as well.
The ADSS stage band under the direction of Sarah Falls tunes up before the official opening on Friday. The large screen in front of the band drops down for video and movie presentations.
The ADSS Dance Team performs “Make You Pop”.