Squamish has over 50 years of live theatre history that is mostly unknown to the majority of the community, I am assuming. I have been the Artistic Director of Between Shifts Theatre since its inception in 1993.
We were a break-off group from the original Howe Sound Players who were the main event in Squamish for 30 years or more. That’s 58 years of community theatre, serving and entertaining Squamish and surrounding areas. The Squamish Historical Society put out a wonderful book, chronicling the history of the Howe Sound Players. It’s a fascinating history with some surprising individuals, from the past and the present, taking the stage. Check it out.
Between Shifts Theatre, or BST, has grown from a small group of passionate actors and directors, to a much more substantial group that includes professionals in film and theatre, in front and behind the scenes, with a membership of 125 and a mailing list of over 500.
We have competed, as members of the North Shore Zone and Theatre BC, as a registered non-profit society, in annual festivals.
Members of Howe Sound Players, most notably the late Doreen Ramus, approached council and sat on many committees to develop an arts centre, or at least, a performance space that would be a community facility. And Between Shifts has carried on, with members sitting on committees and taking part in workshops towards this end. I sat on the Select Committee for Arts and Culture in Squamish in the late 90’s.
We met every few weeks in council chambers and developed a binder that addressed all aspects and concerns represented by the various artistic disciplines and other community arts groups: public art, visual arts, performing arts (theatre, dance, film, music, etc.) plus developing opportunities for and access to education and training.
I was also sent on a fact-finding mission to look at other small towns who had their own theatres, and I brought back a report on the basic financial structure, the buildings themselves, and the administration systems. Nobody knows what happened to that binder. It is a sad example of the many volunteer hours and work that has again and again come to nothing.
I have approached past councils with the examples of how other small municipalities support their local theatre groups, but no luck so far. It is disheartening, that, though we have been around for 28 years, and the previous Howe Sound Players over 30 years, there is still no home for community theatre in Squamish.
Every production involves hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours, passion, artistry and talent, and sheer dedication and commitment in providing a quality production for Squamish.
Our productions are inclusive and offer artists of all ages and talents a venue for their expression.
BST also offers training and workshop opportunities for all areas e.g. lighting design and execution, set decoration and painting, costume design and execution, props design and building, set design and construction, publicity and marketing, stage management, directing, and, of course, acting. Often our productions will include local musicians, visual artists and dancers as well.
Other arts groups such as the Squamish Academy of Music (SAM), Act Alive, Howe Sound Dance, Visuals, just to name a few, all struggle with finding outlets to perform and/or showcase their art. These groups have large contingents of youth and provide artistic and social connections and artistic development. While the lovely Eagle Eye Theatre provides a performance space, access is limited as it is also a teaching space during the day. There are no opportunities for outside groups to rehearse or build sets on the premises.
There are many ways to go about getting a community arts centre established. The easiest and cheapest is having an already existing building and land donated, then run by an arts society. An example of this is Hendry Hall (an old post office building) that is run by the North Vancouver Community Players. Or the corporate route where a business mostly funds the purchase and/or development of an arts centre, then takes the name.
Examples are the BMO (Bank of Montreal) centre in Vancouver and the HUB (HUB insurance) theatre centre in Chilliwack. There are many more ways to look at funding and establishing an arts centre, but whatever way, it is time that Squamish seriously got down to it.
Many towns in BC, much smaller than Squamish, have their own community theatres. Over 50 years dreaming of an arts centre for Squamish is way too long! So, stop dreaming, Squamish, and let’s have a plan in place by the end of the year.
Kathryn Daniels is the artistic director of Between Shifts Theatre Society.