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L.A. Beat

Yates renovations force local theatre groups to improvise with weird spaces

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 Theatre can happen anywhere, and in part, due to the closure of the Yates Theatre for renovations last year, it has as local theatre and arts groups have been performing anywhere they are able to.
 Due to asbestos, the re-opening  of the Yates Centre has been tentatively postponed to July.

“We usually have a main stage production in February, so when the Yates closed, it was challenging,” said Playgoers of Lethbridge board president Elaine Jagielski, who is also directing their upcoming dinner theatre of the British comedy “ Beyond a Joke.”
“We Playgoers of Lethbridge rehearses for their play “Beyond a Joke” in an upstairs room at the Southminster United Church. Photo by Richard Ameryalways do well with dinner theatres,” Jagielski observed, noting usually they do a main stage production in February, but had to re-evaluate their plans as a result of the Yates Theatre closure.
The Derek Benfield penned British comedy “ Beyond a Joke,” runs Feb. 7-10 at the Italian Canadian Club featuring actors Rob Berezay, Jocelyn Steinborn, Aaron Tyslan, Stephanie Wickham, Kevin Reddyk, Marcie Stork and Howard Pearson.

Jagielski emphasized the biggest problem community theatre groups face is finding a place to rehearse and perform that is affordable and will welcome them in.
“It has been challenging to find alternate places to perform,” she said, noting there is such a demand for performing spaces apart from theatre group, that there is a lot of competition to  get into a space.
She noted Playgoers approached numerous venues for their upcoming production.

 “We looked into the College Drive Community Church and  the French Canadian centre, who have a nice stage, but it wouldn’t have worked for a dinner theatre. We even looked at the Gem of the West Museum in Coaldale, but there is an open space in the middle of it and there are pillars in the way. We even looked at the community hall in Diamond City, but we weren’t sure if people would be willing to drive that far,” she said.

“There’s a lot of interesting spaces, but it is challenging trying to find one that is cost effective and aren’t booked up. All of the spaces are booked up,” she said.
 They are rehearsing for “Beyond a Joke” at Southminster United Church.

“We have a relationship with them and we’ve had people who are involved with our plays who are also involved with the church,” she said, adding she is appreciative of their support for Playgoers.

LCI usually has a main stage production, however, they decided to use their own theatre instead for their December production of “Anne of Green Gables.”
Frewin noted putting on the musical has been a challenge.
“We’re working with a smaller stage than we’re used to, especially for a musical,” said drama teacher Kelly Frewin, noting they put on a musical every three years or so.
While Hatrix Theatre isn’t affected by the closure of the Yates, they still use alternate spaces for their productions. They have been using the Moose Hall for productions like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Avenue Q” to name a few, though they put on Spamalot in the Yates.

The other arm of Hatrix, has used the Nord bridge Seniors Centre for their past two productions of “12 Angry Jurors” and “the Game’s Afoot: Holmes for the Holidays.”

 Utilizing a space which is already used by other community organizations and events presents its own unique set of technical problems.
“You still need to find a place to meet. And for the show, you need to think of audience visibility,” said Hatrix Theatre’s Karolyn Harker.

“You have two choices, you have to either raise the audience or raise the stage. And if it is used for other events, you have to tear it all down,” she continued, adding lights also have to be moved at the end of the show.
“When there’s no fixed lights, they have to be changed each night too. And there’s no backstage area,” she said.

 “That limits the director’s choices unless there is a space you can lead actors off into a separate room. That’s why I chose 12 Angry Jurors. The actors were on stage all the time and there was consistent lighting with no special effects,” she continued, adding she enjoyed working with Nord Bridge using their space when nobody else was using it.

 She is planning a May production of Ken Ludwig’s “ A Comedy of Tenors,” which features some of the same characters, though it isn’t a sequel. It will be a location to be determined.
New West Theatre was probably the theatre group most affected by the Yates closure, so ended up having shows at an assortment of various locations all over the city.
“We chose  plays based on the spaces we expected to be in. So a lot of extra time went into planning,” said New West Theatre General manger Derek Stevenson. They utilized the Trianon Art Gallery for “Vigil,” which was a collaboration with Club Didi, held a Christmas show at The multicultural Centre downtown, Chinook High School for their big annual winter musical revue of “Starlight” and used the Casa community room for their theatre for young people’s production of “Hansel and Gretel.” They will be in the University Theatre for “Ms. Sugarcube,” their final production of the season, Feb. 21-24.

“The Trianon was a perfect match for the Vigil,” Stevenson said, noting who you know is an important part of being able to get access unusual spaces.
“Sharon Peat (New West Artistic Director) is really good friends with the Savilles who own the the Trianon,” observed Theatre Outré general manager Jay Whitehead.
“And it’s an art gallery, so we had to move in seating and lighting and black out the windows, because there were a lot of blackouts in the play. We were set up for two weeks. They were very generous,” Whitehead said.
“It takes place in the attic of an old house, so the space really suited the play,” Whitehead said.

“When we‘re paying professional actors, we’re hoping at the very least to break even,” Stevenson said.
“We also had to think about parking and audience accessibility, especially because the audience for the musical comedy revue are elderly,” Stevenson said, adding they had to do a lot of organizing in a short time, with three of their shows this season happening  within a month.
“They were  bam, bam, bam, one right after the other, which was also difficult for people like Erica (Hunt) and Kathy (Zaborsky,) who were involved in all three of them.

Each venue required careful negotiation, especially arranging access to Chinook High School’s theatre, which required a lot of extra discussions and challenges, but Stevenson proved it could be done.


“We had to negotiate with  the City of Lethbridge, the city council had to approve it, we had to negotiate with school District 51 and the Chinook High School, we were talking with unions about paying for heat and snow removal. There were a lot of logistical details to take care of,” he said.
“And we‘re really grateful to them for letting us the space and moving all of their events for us. It was perfect for us,” he continued, adding the different venues this season weren’t even close to being the strangest places he has seen live theatre.

“When I was in New York City, a British theatre company took over an abandoned hotel. There were six floors of performances including MacBeth. Everybody who bought a ticket got a different coloured mask. The only people who weren’t in a mask were the actors, so you’d follow the actors around. You’d enter off an elevator and they’d take some people off it. If you came to the show as part of a group you’d be separated, because the idea was to go to theatre on your own. They’d do a scene from MacBeth then a scene from another play and different scenes would interact. It really made you fell like part of the show, rather than just watching it. I can’t even imagine organizing something like that,” he said.

“It was like a choreographed dance,” he said.Director Elaine Jagielski sets up a scene in  Playgoers of Lethbridge’s production of “ Beyond a Joke,” Photo by Richard Amery
“For the Christmas show we also looked at Southminster United Church and College Drive Church. We‘ve done Chbristmas shows at churches before because churches are ideal places for the Christmas shows, but they were both booked up,” Stevenson said.

New West also had to look into alternate places for rehearsals.
 ‘Hansel and Gretel’ rehearsed in the old AMA offices next to the Sandman In on mayor Magrath Drive for three weeks.
“One of our board members is a real estate agent who helped organize that,” he said, noting thanks to Theatre Outré, they were able to rehearse “Vigil,” in their space Club Didi.
“Casa” was an ideal space for ‘Hansel and Gretel.”

“The show is designed to be a touring show, so the set was easy to take down. And they took care of seating,” Stevenson said, adding some rehearsals were at G.S. Lakie School.

“ But it’s not just us who are affected by the Yates Centre closing, some dance groups have used  the Enmax Centre because they have a small concert set up with seating for1,000 people. But it wasn’t suitable for us,” he continued.

 Theatre Outré general manager Jay Whitehead and Theatre Outré are pretty much the kings of finding unusual spaces for productions, Whitehead noted while Theatre Outré holds most of their events in their own space, Club Didi, they face a big challenge for one of their cornerstone events— “Pretty Witty And Gay,” coming up in March.
“We usually have Pretty, Witty and Gay in the Sterndale Bennett Theatre, but we really need to find an alternate space,” Whitehead said.

“It’s our flagship event and our members really look forward to it. So we need a space that is big enough for the audience we expect to get,” he said adding sometimes smaller productions are best suited to strange venues.
Last February, they held a production of the harrowing Second World War thriller “the Curing Room” about prisoners of war locked in the basement of an abandoned church, in the basement of 10,000 Villages.

“Our member Deonie Hudson went to a party and met the person who owns that building, Whitehead said, adding, they let them use the space.
“ People said they were really creeped out by the space, which was kind of the point. But there were challenges. We had to move lighting and seating down there and we were naked and the building wasn’t heated. And it was the middle of February,“ Whitehead said.
In February 2016, they raised their production of “The Late Company” in  his friend Levi Cox’s  spacious downtown apartment above Catwalk.

“ It takes place in a family dinner, so it was a perfect location. We had to move in the seating , but we used the permanent lighting. You also have to deal with things like street noise, which you don[t usually have to deal with in a soundproofed theatre,” he said, adding other times, the unexpected happens.

“ One night their cat got out, so we had to deal with a cat on the stage,” he said.

Usually they hold their events in Club Didi, a upstairs, where they have  seating and lights, which can be reconfigured as needed.
“We can reconfigure the space  as we need it,” Whitehead said.

 A version of this story appears in the Jan. 10, 2018 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times/ Shopper
— by Richard Amery, L.a. Beat Editor
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