With threadbare and duct-taped curtains, the clang and clatter of pots from next door’s teaching kitchen, poor acoustics and zero preparation space, drama students at Stelly’s Secondary have been doing the best they can for decades to turn their multi-purpose room into a makeshift theatre.
“There’s no backstage to speak of, and no side wings,” says Ron Broda, and he goes on to cover the gamut of problems with the space.
The teaching kitchen is literally through a set of doors at the back of the room, leaking all manner of noise into rehearsal space. There is limited — and not entirely accessible — seating available. Truly a multi-purpose room, the space doubles as the school’s lunchroom, and is also the primary venue for guest speakers. That means drama and arts classes often get bumped from their only working space to make room for lecturers coming in.
Broda is president of The Society for the Community Arts Theatre at Stelly’s and has been working hard for three years to see a professional, world-class theatre built at the school.
The dream is to have a professional and well-designed mid-size theatre with 500 to 700 seats, a balcony, orchestra pit, separate rehearsal space, large lobby with a gallery, fly tower and a sprung dance floor. The project would be a multi-million undertaking, similar to several other school district-based theatres on the mainland.
Broda points to the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey, owned by School District 36 (Surrey), as an ideal model to follow. He says the proposed theatre at Stelly’s would be used jointly by the school and the municipality.
“(Stelly’s) needs a real performing arts theatre and we recognize it needs to be a community venue,” he says.
Once built, the theatre could host all manner of community ventures, from dance academies, community theatre, concerts, film festivals, trade shows and lectures, as well as attracting well-known Canadian and international performers.
Supporting the arts in education and in the community is vital, he says.
“There are a lot of studies that prove what the arts do for students. That creative side, it improves our thinking and expands appreciation for the world around us,” he says. “Look at any successful person, and they have some kind of arts background.”
Chris Hadfield, he says, is a prime example: a brilliant astronaut who charmed the world with his rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity from space. (Not to mention Hadfield’s charming duet with brother Dave, In Canada.)
The arts are also a strong draw to students who may struggle in school, adds Broda.
“If we can find some way to just keep them in school and get them to graduate, they do much better in life and have more job prospects. I’ve talked to people (who) say if it weren’t for musical theatre or drama, they would have dropped out.”
Broda and the Society have done just about as much leg work as they can at this point. They’ve received endorsement from the school district, talked to local government and raised $15,000 from community donations and their own pockets.
Now, they need the funds to start putting the big picture together, and that means starting with a feasibility study.
“We need hard figures as to what the site really can accommodate,” says Broda. “A lot of (development) grants specifically exclude feasibility studies, so you have to get out there and do the footwork yourself.”
They’ve singled out an architect and independent consultant to conduct the study to cover the specifics like square footage, location and the other “hard facts.”
Broda says they’ll have architectural designs as well, so the Society can begin approaching larger donors with a concrete idea in hand.
“Most people are visual. They want to see what we’re doing,” he says.
Broda was approaching the school board Wednesday evening (after the News Review’s deadline) to ask them to match their current funds. If the board says yes, the Society should be able to get the feasibility study completed within the next two to three months.
The timeline for actually building a professional theatre is still up in the air, dependent firstly on funding the feasibility study, but Broda has high hopes for the project.
“I’d like to see ground broken within the next three years, and building completion within five,” he says. “I believe it is possible.”
It’s a big goal, but Broda’s optimism is not misplaced. He and the Society have had nothing but positive responses from the community, he says.
“A lot of people have thanked me for taking this on, and I’ve had nothing but encouragement.”
It’s not hard to see why. A professional theatre at Stelly’s would not only support arts education for the students, but provide a hub for community productions and attract larger artists and events that could bring in revenue.
“We want to make this a financial asset, not a financial drain on the community,” he says.
For more information or to donate, visit theatreatstellys.com.