This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
Several years ago, my very small town of Nakusp, B.C., hosted a travelling dance company. The dancers took to the minuscule stage in our arena’s auditorium and then proceeded to tighten their movements, shorten their jumps and squeeze tutu against tutu to fit. I applaud their efforts – the show was enjoyable – but the company never came back again.
Hosting dance performances in a small community can be challenging, even if the stage has decent dimensions. Arts Revelstoke knows what this is like. Located down the highway from Nakusp, in a B.C. community of about 8,275 people, “We have lots of issues,” says general manager Maggie Davis. “But it is also rewarding.”
Luckily, stage size isn’t one of the problems. While events around town used to take place in a variety of venues, a new Revelstoke Secondary School was built in 2012, complete with a 275-seat theatre. Owned by the City of Revelstoke and managed by Arts Revelstoke, “It’s a beautiful, welcoming theatre,” Davis says, and offers “endless possibilities.”
This fall, for example, Arts Revelstoke hosted the Dancers of Damelahamid, who combine Indigenous dance, story, song and multimedia in their performance Mînowin. There are dance workshops on the stage and competitions. “Really professional groups come to Revelstoke, and we’re really lucky to have this beautiful theatre as a resource,” says Davis.
While partnering with the secondary school made constructing the theatre possible, sharing that space on an ongoing basis can be tricky. “It’s definitely more administration to work around other groups using the theatre,” Davis says, mentioning examples like the school’s drama club or the school itself for events like Remembrance Day ceremonies. Elementary school students occasionally gather there, and other users rent the space, too. Not only does scheduling take more thought, but after each use, “It’s also rehanging and refocusing lights and all those sorts of things – with a small team.”
Simply finding a team of local technicians post-pandemic has been difficult. Across Canada, there’s already a shortage of qualified people, like audio or lighting technicians, a problem that is even more pronounced in a small town. During the 2022/23 season, Davis says, “For our first few shows, I had to bring someone in from Kelowna. We’ve had to bring people in from Vancouver. It’s been really challenging.”
Local experts are rare – and the community’s cost of housing can scare potential folks away. Not long ago, Davis was fretting about who could run the theatre’s technical side. Luckily, Arts Revelstoke was able to hire two trained audio technicians for its summer outdoor concerts, who stayed on for the indoor theatre’s performance series. And a man from Belgium with lighting experience happened to move to town. “We’re thrilled to have him,” Davis says. “It was one of those amazing things that just lined up.”
Still, if one of the techs is sick on performance day, “We can’t just grab someone,” Davis says. “They have to come from three hours away.” There’s no set design, either. “We don’t have capacity and a team to do that, or the space.” Those who are renting or touring must provide their own decor.
Keeping equipment running is also an issue. Davis cites several examples: “We were actually out of light bulbs for one of our main lights, and we had to wait three weeks to get light bulbs in. So we did run a couple of shows with minimal lights. As well, if any of our audio gear breaks, the closest repair person that we have is in the Okanagan. Plus, we have a projector that’s being a pain and we have to ship it to Toronto to get it fixed and pay to rent another one. It’s definitely costly.”
On the flip side, the theatre benefits from a dedicated group of volunteers. Local hotels and businesses offer their services when accommodating performers. And while a junior hockey game in the nearby arena, or a wine-tasting festival, may affect the theatre’s ticket sales (the community has only so many residents to go around) the 2021/22 season “had some sold-out shows, and the theatre was packed multiple times,” Davis says. She especially loves it when the performances attract children. “They’re just so excited and the energy is infectious.”
The theatre supports the community by presenting world-class experiences, and the community supports it in turn. “It takes a village to run a theatre,” she says. “Having the opportunity to bring touring arts and culture to a place like Revelstoke – we’re so fortunate.”
Give a gift, get a gift! Send a loved one a gift subscription to The Dance Current this holiday season and you’ll received a FREE tote bag! Offer ends December 11.