CITY CENTRE – Two-hundred permanent seats, an automated drape system to hide the desks of city councillors and a state-of-the-art digital audio mixing console are features of Centre Stage, the theatre at Surrey’s new city hall on 104th Avenue.
The dual-purpose space will also be used by Surrey city council for its meetings.
As a performance venue, Centre Stage is already attracting attention from local arts groups, thanks in part to an outreach effort by staff with Surrey’s Parks, Recreation & Culture department.
"There’s a lot of interest in this venue," said Kent Gallie, the city’s performing arts manager.
"The number of (performing arts) venues in Surrey is limited, so the opportunity for a new venue of this size, at that location, is welcome news to a lot of people in the arts and culture community."
One of the first organizations to show interest in Centre Stage is Vancouver Opera, which has tentatively booked the theatre for a concert on Saturday, April 12.
"It looks like the new space in the council chambers will be architecturally stunning," Doug Tuck, marketing director of the opera company, told the Now. "I’ve seen the ground plans…. The (space) will be quite adaptable to all users, with a 50-foot-wide stage and curtains, lights and sound. I think it will be very useful for lots of different purposes."
But before its show at Centre Stage, the company is staging a similar "Opera’s Greatest Hits – and More" concert at Surrey Arts Centre – also operated by the City of Surrey – on Saturday, Feb. 8, featuring four singers and a pianist who are part of Vancouver Opera’s Yulunda M. Faris Young Artists program. Tickets for the show are $20 for adults, and $10 for seniors, students and kids aged 18 and under, via tickets. surrey.ca and 604-501-5566.
"Our plan is to repeat this concert, with some variation, as one of the first acts to inhabit the new theatre space in the council chambers there," Tuck said.
The opera company is looking to tap into Surrey’s dynamic arts community, Tuck said.
"Surrey is top of mind with everyone, not only as the fastest growing municipality but also a burgeoning arts community, a cultural community," he said. "Part of our plan is to revolutionize or increase our accessibility and our connection with the community, to build our audiences. If (Surrey) is the biggest municipality around, then that’s a place we should be."
The official "public" opening of Centre Stage is scheduled to coincide with the city’s Party for the Planet celebrations on Saturday, April 26, the Now has learned. A media tour of the theatre is planned for Feb. 11.
A PowerPoint presentation prepared by Neil Scott, Surrey’s cultural production co-ordinator, reveals Centre Stage details, including theatre-standard lighting and sound system, theatrical drapes and masking, installation of a lighting catwalk, elevated stage, projection screen and an "innovative" system for removing management and staff desks from the stage area, by dropping them down below the stage itself.
Venue features include a box office operated by the Surrey Arts Centre, concession/bar operated by Take Five CafÃ©, a six-storey-high lobby (the atrium of city hall), two dressing rooms close to the stage, a portable wardrobe rack and four portable makeup mirrors. An adjacent "City Room," more than 1,300 square feet in size, has infrastructure for audio and sound in place.
As of this week, the plan is to have city council hold its first meeting in the new chambers on March 31, said Coun. Judy Villeneuve.
"The idea is to really open up this space to the community, unlike the current council chambers, and to use it for a real variety of things," said Villeneuve, chair of the city’s culture development and public art advisory committees.
"It’s well thought out as a theatre space, with all the amenities needed for that, and it won’t be like someone trying to stage a show or production in a regular council chamber."
The venue’s size, location and amenities seem to be attractive to users, Villeneuve added.
"A lot of people are talking about it and know it’s coming, and the arts centre has had quite a few inquiries about the space," she said.
"It’s another venue that can be used to distribute different arts opportunities to different areas of the city, just like we do with sports and recreation opportunities. I’m excited about that, because I think there is more interest in supporting the arts, and that’s proven through a lot of statistics and studies."