$79K federal grant for theatre setting stage for future

The Cowichan Theatre has received $79,195 to build a stagelevel washroom plus other muchneeded renovations. The money comes in the form of a Canadian Heritage Grant from the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund.

This is the first time the Cowichan Theatre has submitted an application for this grant and there was no way of gauging its chances for success, according to CVRD arts and culture division manager Kirsten Schrader.

The idea of having some washrooms at stage level is thrilling, she said, laughing.

"That’s probably one of the most popular of the three projects for people that have performed or worked on the stage. It’s a problem not to have a washroom at stage level."

Elderly people as well as the many young performers that make local productions so special will really welcome the addition, she said.

"People that have heard about that have really cheered."

But long before the cheering started, there was a lot of work going on behind the scenes.

The Cowichan Theatre has never tried for a grant from this group before or of this magnitude but Schrader wanted to get a Cowichan foot in the door.

"I am aware of this from my own background working in Vancouver. Since I came here I’ve always been researching grant opportunities. I’ve applied for some smaller ones that we’ve received but this is the biggest one so far but, you know, it’s a lot of work to get a grant like this from Canadian Heritage," she said.

It’s a national program and that means competing with other eager facilities from across the country.

"The application process was quite extensive, too, because they weren’t aware of our theatre. There were probably about three or four months of follow-up questions from the panel reviewing our application as well.

"They were getting to know the theatre. They wanted to know that we had a presenting season, that we buy shows, professional shows, and bring them here, that we’re not working solely with community groups. So there was a lot of work done on my part to familiarize them with the work that we do and to assure them that we meet the grant criteria."

These grants are for theatres that present shows, not those that solely rent out the facility. But now, with all that work, Schrader has introduced them to the theatre.

"The next time we apply they will know us. And you can apply as many times as you want. And of course it reduces the load onto the taxpayers, too. This is very good news that we are going to start to and hopefully continue to receive funds from the federal government," she said.

Although many theatre users are applauding the idea of stagelevel washrooms, others are also very pleased that other changes are coming.

"The crews that unload the shows from the back of semi trucks are thrilled about our loading dock upgrades. That will make their job easier because sometimes it has not been even possible to bring in the equipment that they have because the ramp wasn’t appropriate and there were also safety standards to meet. And, there’s a new roof so the stairs won’t ice over and freeze, plus removing a sill from a doorway so you can push a 600-pound cart straight through rather than try to get it over the bump. Lots of things," she said.

An air curtain is going to protect the stage.

"There’s a draft that goes right up the freight elevator. Now, there’s going to be what’s called an air curtain to prevent that draft so the performers on the stage won’t be freezing."

Some of the changes will bring unexpected benefits for the folks in the seats, too.

"Completion of the fly system allows us to bring in full-production sets. And the sets won’t need to be modified because we didn’t have enough fly lines."

Before this, Cowichan audiences were perhaps unknowingly having to see modified sets from some of the bigger professional shows "because we didn’t have enough fly lines to raise the sets the shows wanted, compromising the experience," according to Schrader. This enhancement will really open up opportunities.

"It also allows local groups to expand their shows because they were also being hamstrung," Schrader said.

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