ZILLICH: Take a bow, Surrey city hall, for building dual-purpose Centre Stage

200-seat theatre isn't without flaws, but bravo for smart move to open it

Simon Kendall plays piano during open house event at Centre Stage

SURREY — On Tuesday, an event was held to reveal the behind-the-curtains workings of Centre Stage, the dual-purpose theatre space at Surrey’s relatively new city hall building on 104th Avenue.

Only about a dozen people – a few bookers of concerts and shows, plus some local business types – attended the showcase event, which is a shame, really, because the 200-seat theatre should be seen and experienced.

Within 40 minutes, the space can be transformed from city council chambers to a performance theatre, although it’s not the “Transformers”-like, push-of-a-button conversion people might expect. Parts of the system are automated, including the lights, speakers and curtain that hides the mayor and council desk, but it’s all a very manual task, Neil Scott, the city’s cultural production co-ordinator, told me before a two-person crew went to work.

Primarily, Scott does the city’s programming of Centre Stage and oversees rentals of the facility. It’s among the four spaces under the Surrey Civic Theatres umbrella, along with the adjacent City Room (the sky-high, vertigo-inducing atrium space at city hall) and Main Stage and Studio theatres at Surrey Arts Centre, located at Bear Creek Park.

So far, Scott says, Centre Stage has been a relatively busy place since it opened in the spring of 2014, even if not many people attended his event on Tuesday.

“I had almost three times as many bookings this past fall compared to the previous fall, so we’re moving in the right direction, and there’s still room for more to be coming in,” Scott said. “But as long as we’re getting more bookings than the year before, I’ll be happy.”

It was a happy night for Scott last Saturday (Feb. 20), when a performance by illusionist Vitaly Beckman marked the first official sold-out show at Centre Stage. Beckman, a Burnaby resident who performs around the world, is a gifted magic man, and the enthusiastic crowd ooh’d and aww’d accordingly.

The event revealed some flaws in Centre Stage, however.

In my mind, the theatre’s rake, or slope on which the seats are bolted, isn’t steep enough to allow some (shorter) people to see past the heads of others. Also, the general-admission nature of the show had some attendees scrambling to find connected seats, although Scott tells me a reserved-seating plan will be in place by next fall. Worse, at intermission, the lobby’s Take Five Café was stocked with only a single Rice Krispies square and a brownie or two – not nearly enough “food” for a crowd of 200 patrons (especially those who skipped dinner that night, ahem).

Still, Centre Stage is a stylish venue for concerts, small-scale theatre shows, film screenings, conferences and other gatherings.

Scott’s 2016-17 programming for Centre Stage will be revealed publicly on March 12 during a “Piaf & So Much More” concert by singer Joëlle Rabu.

Some local groups may balk at even the cheapest rate of $1,159 (for a Surrey-based nonprofit) to rent the theatre for a six-hour period; the fee jumps to $1,493 for a commercial/private booking, according to numbers posted on the city’s website.

Many have questioned the high cost of building the new city hall, with good reason. But without question, the move to make the council chambers a dual-purpose theatre was a wise one.

Tom Zillich is the Now’s Entertainment Editor. Email him at tom.zillich@thenownewspaper.com



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