Theatre dining room ready for act two

Dropcloths on the stairs, huge garbage bins outside: it’s clear even to the most casual visitor to the Chemainus Theatre that something big is afoot.

There are big changes coming for the iconic Playbill Dining Room, known to a generation of theatregoers as the home of the luscious pre-performance buffets.

The big room has been stripped to the bare walls in preparation for a totally new look, the first renovation in 20 years.

"We’re just a couple of days into it so we haven’t had too many surprises so far. But, we’ve got a great team and we’ve done a lot of planning, so hopefully we

won’t find too many snakes," said Randy Huber, managing director for the Chemainus Theatre Festival.

"It’s been 20 years and this is long due for a refresh."

Diners who have been used to seeing the space decked with its curtain dividers would be astonished at how large the room really is once everything is removed.

The ceiling will be lowered, altering the atmosphere, according to Huber, who hosted a tour of the renovation Monday, Jan. 6. "Up top here you can see all the strands coming down. It will be a T-bar ceiling across the top to make it a bit more intimate. Those chevrons that were hanging down will all be gone. We won’t have them in the new year."

The buffet will be placed in two different sections, in an L-shape at the back. The kitchen is not being renovated but the area near it is changing, he said.

"We’ve moved the back corner wall out a little farther so all the server stations that used to be located throughout the dining room will be taken off the floor into the back. It will leave a cleaner, more professional experience for dining."

Huber said the colour scheme was "a bit of a secret at the moment" but promised it will be "elegant and dramatic and hopefully timeless – seeing as we’re a theatre, the more dramatic the better."

Some of the furniture will be repurposed.

"What’s nice is that all of the chairs have been moved down to our rehearsal hall. We’re going to be using them to do some studio work down there. Freud’s Last Session, which is actually a studio show, is going to be staged down there. We’ll use those chairs down there. And we’ll have new chairs here," Huber said.

And everything will be completed in time for Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story, which opens Feb. 11.

"We started Jan. 2. We had all our crew in here, all the trades in and, starting at 11 a.m., they began work, pulling up the carpet, doing the framing. They stripped everything out in three hours. It was amazing," Huber said, adding the project is flying a little under the radar for a lot of the public.

"We haven’t promoted this change much but we’re planning an unveiling in February."

A huge difference in the look of the Playbill will be the addition of a bar/lounge area. Located near the entrance, it will boast a fireplace and its own style. Exact future uses of the lounge area are still under consideration.

It’s definitely a case of watch that space.

But it will be a beautiful space to watch.

"As soon as people come in, there will be this nice warm fireplace with a lovely stone mantel. It’s going to be lovely, it will have hardwood flooring in that area, the rest of the dining area will be carpet. And there will be a different style of tables and chairs, just to kind of set it apart from the rest of the room. I think it will be great. We’re up for trying anything once, so we’re looking at all kinds of ideas," Huber said.

"We’re hoping that, if people haven’t been in for a while to the Playbill, they will come in and try us out again, have the full experience."

Rob Reid, site supervisor for contractor RW (Bob) Wall Ltd., said there are some exciting building materials going into the project.

"One of the materials is a silver grey. It’s silk and really quite beautiful. I didn’t know I had $15,000 in those four bolts of material in my truck the other day when I was driving it back from Nanaimo," he said, smiling.

Renovating the room has looked a bit like some of those TV home improvement shows. Getting rid of the old cash register site to make room for the fireplace, for instance.

"Terry took great pleasure in taking a sledge hammer and beating that over sideways," Reid said.

"And on Saturday, I had my two sons in here with me and we were going nuts tearing everything apart. Now, we just have to get a bunch of questions answered and then it’s ‘stand back, or you’ll get nailed to the wall.’ It’ll be like a runaway train till we’re finished."