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Bring back the curtain: Stelly's needs a new theatre, says parent

Frayed curtains and students eating lunch are two hallmarks of the multipurpose room that doubles as a theatre at Stelly
Frayed curtains and students eating lunch are two hallmarks of the multipurpose room that doubles as a theatre at Stelly's secondary. Some see a need for a dedicated theatre for the Central Saanich high school.
— image credit: Christine van Reeuwyk/News staff

Ron Broda doesn’t like the term theatre for the space used for presentations at Stelly’s. It is, and always has been, called a multipurpose room.

Like any multipurpose tool, it serves as many things, but not all well.

“It’s substandard for any kind of performance,” he said.

The original November 1976 drawings for Stelly’s secondary school call the space a multipurpose room. It had a classroom that opened onto a stage area backing onto a dining area to offer a dual purpose, similar to a system used at Bayside middle school now. It was designed for about 100 people and allowed for presentations to the dining area, which was adjacent to the current teaching kitchen.

In 1992, during major renovations at the Central Saanich school, the music room was relocated and a new band room built. That’s when the bleachers went in and the floor area used as a stage was increased to create a theatre within the multipurpose room. A small storage room was converted to a sound room.

Jan Heinrichs, music director at Stelly’s secondary, joined the staff as a music teacher the year of those renovations.

Not having a dedicated theatre hinders the stage programs at Stelly’s, said Heinrichs. From high-end musical theatre performances, to fundraising arts events, the high school hosts a multitude of theatre events each year.

“It’s really cramped in here. It’s just really small and these seats are dangerous,” said student Shayla Broda, gesturing to the green bleacher seats.

Her dad Ron is among a handful of folks spearheading an effort to gauge support for a dedicated theatre for the school.

A survey handed out during recent performances at Stelly’s is among the first planned sources of community input. The group gathering information plans to identify areas of support and commitment from the community.

“We’ve had quite a number of people volunteer for different initiatives,” Broda said. “The response was better than I anticipated.”

If they see solid support, a formalized initiative is in the works.

“There’s definitely a need. We’re excited about the interest and support,” Heinrichs said.

There is a laundry list of things wrong with the space, she pointed out.

The frayed black drapes of the wings have been patched and repaired, thanks to the volunteer efforts of a Stelly’s staffer. The dramatic red curtain is thinning.

The hallway and classrooms behind the makeshift theatre are used as dressing rooms during shows, which means cleanup after each evening performance in preparation for classes the next day.

“We don’t want [the theatre] to double as a classroom and a lunch room,” Heinrichs added.

A dance and drama classroom is cluttered with sets and other stage items – storage overflow. The school is in dire need of a sound system and an orchestra pit.

“We’ve done many shows where we’re tucked in the wing,” she said.

Stelly’s has a history of working with the community to fill a void. The Boulders climbing gym brought together private donors and all levels of government to build the world-class facility that opened its doors late last year.

“That’s the model we want to use,” Broda said. “It really takes the community to make that happen and that’s what needs to happen here.”

Anyone interested in supporting the Stelly’s theatre initiative can email stellyscommunityartstheatre@gmail.com.

 

Community connection

The community could find some use for a formal theatre, say proponents of building a performing arts facility at Stelly’s secondary.

Alongside the multitude of student concerts and shows each year, there would be ample space and time for community groups to use a theatre facility in Central Saanich as well, according to Stelly’s music director.

“We’d love to see something that could accommodate the community as well,” said Jan Heinrichs.

And they’d like to invite more of the community in to see shows.

Usually the department lays out the cash to perform the senior musical theatre show at Sidney’s Charlie White Theatre. This year they did Pajama Game in their own school space.

“We did an awesome job and it was amazing,” said Grade 12 student Shayla Broda.

She felt a let down in having the audience sit on broken bleachers that don’t afford a great view of the performance.

“I think it’s important for the community too,” she said. “People want to come and see [students] perform.”

 

Did you know?

Claremont and Parkland both have formal theatres.

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