While the economic recession has made people more selective about where they spend their entertainment dollars, one city facility that seems to be drawing consistent support these days is the Kelowna Community Theatre.
The bustling show biz destination in the heart of Kelowna’s downtown attracts community members from every single demographic in our city, from thrilled parents of dance recital students to discerning members of the cultural cognoscenti who catch world class classical performances.
These days at the Kelowna Community Theatre, the toughest decision is which show to book your tickets for.
The Kelowna Community Theatre is enjoying a steady hold in attendance of shows and the number of shows after a steady boom in the middle of the last decade.
It is a real contrast to the state of the live theatre industry across North America, says theatre general manager Randy Zahara.
“We doubled from 2004 to 2009. We are not immune to the recession and people are more cautious with their disposable income. Our industry has had flat numbers since 2009,” Zahara said.
“Across North America some areas have ticket sales down 20 per cent. We’ve avoided that.”
While times may be tough, Kelowna Community Theatre is coping, Zahara says, by bringing in world class acts and committing to the community.
This twofold strategy embraces the idea of youth performing on a large stage for the first time and local performers having the opportunity to engage their local audience and build a following.
The second part of the plan is to bring in the quality touring acts that will not only draw in a diverse audience, he says, but expose local artists and talent to an environment they can aspire to be a part of.
Bringing in larger acts has required relationship building on the part of Zahara, who took on the role of general manager eight years ago.
“We were lacking in the touring shows and it is great to be exposed to other artists,” he said.
“We have tried to bring in some of the bigger shows and in turn partner more locally.”
Bigger shows tend to mean profitable ventures for the theatre. Those profits are then poured into local partnerships with performers.
As a general rule, a local partnership shifts more of the risk to the Kelowna Community Theatre, allowing smaller community groups to stage their production.
“We are passionate about giving our local performers the opportunity to be on stage,” said Zahara.
Zahara works closely with touring companies to showcase emerging talent that are building their regional and national names.
Upcoming is Sarah Slean, the Canadian chanteuse with impeccable piano styling and memorable vocals in support of her double album, Land and Sea, which is being heralded by critics as a Canadian masterpiece of pop and ballads.
Slean will perform at the community theatre on Nov. 20.
Occasionally, those relationships bring in big catch entertainers and shows in unexpected ways.
Zahara just signed the contracts for comedian great, Bob Saget.
Purely just for grown-ups, this show is a world away from the family friendly Saget you might remember from 1980 and ‘90s TV shows Full House and America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Saget’s comedy stage show takes on a decidedly more off-colour tone that has made him a popular attraction at comedy clubs across North America.
Tickets for Saget’s Jan. 18 appearance at the KCT go on sale next week.
Reflective of the theatre’s diverse lineup of performers, another coming attraction will be the Cuban National Ballet, scheduled to play here Feb. 11 and 12, 2012, and considered one of the top five ballet companies in the world.
Next week is the launch of Burlesque to Broadway, starring Quinn Lemley and directed by Tony award winner Joseph Hardy.
Partial proceeds from that show are donated to the B.C. Cancer Foundation.
“This (Burlesque) is probably one of the most ‘professional’ shows we have ever had,” muses Zahara.
“The players and the show come from off Broadway in New York
“It is touring to head to Broadway, you can tell by the confidence and the elegance of the performer, Quinn Lemley.
“We’ve got some beautiful talent locally. But to see this… it is one of the best shows you can see without going to New York.”
Zahara works to keep the line-up full in part because the Kelowna Community Theatre is uniquely positioned.
The venue has 853 seats, compared to the spacious 6,000 seat Prospera Place and the intimately sized 320 seat Mary Irwin Theatre at the Rotary Centre for the Arts.
The KCT’s seating capacity is big enough for larger acts to make money.
Keeping the theatre financially viable is deeply important to Zahara.
The City of Kelowna funds the theatre to the tune of $162,000 per year.
All other theatre operating funds come from ticket sales, including the large investment in the brand new digital sound system and board.
The significant upgrades mean touring acts will not need to rent old school analogue equipment. The money came from a capital improvement fee added to ticket prices.
“We do as much as we can to be economical,” explained Zahara.
“We don’t get grants because we don’t want to compete with organizations that really need the money.
“We are a part of the team and happy to do what we can.”
The theatre operates with a very lean staff, Zahara handles management and there are two full-time tech staff members, a typical theatre of this size operates with about twice as many people.
The front of house is a dedicated team of volunteers. Community non profit organizations are offered at exceptional discounts.
For established community performance groups, the Black Box rehearsal space is proving to be an outstanding venue for polishing acts or with a 120 person capacity as a ‘black box theatre.’
The main theatre has the capacity for local performers to experiment and try new ventures.
This weekend is Falcon’s Trumpet. This production has been three years in the making. It is the first time in years that the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Kelowna have collaborated and the first time ever to such an extent.
Falcon’s Trumpet is composed by R. Murray Schafer, who will be in attendance.
It is a concerto for trumpet and orchestra with natural stereo sound. First trumpet, Guy Few, and the conductor will be onstage.
The orchestra will be strategically spaced around the theatre, at the rear of the stage, in the wings, in the midst of the audience and at the back of the theatre.
The stage will feature Ballet Kelowna with original choreography by Ballet Kelowna artistic director, David LaHay.
The Kelowna Community Theatre is home base for both the Okanagan Symphony and Ballet Kelowna, two more reasons why it has become the second busiest theatre in B.C. for the past five years.
Zahara has a laughing protest when he points out the busiest theatre in B.C. is the Michael J. Fox Theatre, which is attached to Burnaby South Secondary School in the Lower Mainland.
“We like to be consistent; we are very, very busy.”