It’s fitting that the Port Theatre is located in the heart of downtown Nanaimo because ever since its inception in 1998, the 800-seat venue has become the very soul of the arts and entertainment community.
Now, 16 years later, the highly regarded venue is looking toward the future with an ambitious expansion plan.
“This really is an incubator for a lot of excitement and creativity,” said Bruce Halliday, the theatre’s general manager.
The proposed expansion, called the Community Performing Arts Centre, will feature a flexible 50-220-seat performance space along with three rehearsal spaces.
“Our vision of this is that taking another purpose-built performance space and professional rehearsal spaces and make sure that they are all affordable for the community.”
The idea to create to a rehearsal space began more than two decades ago when the Port Theatre was just an idea on paper.
“Right from the inception of the Port Theatre it was always planned to have a rehearsal hall or more attached to it,” Halliday said.
During the construction phase of the Port Theatre, money became tight and the additional space was axed from the project.
An effort was made in the mid-2000s to create a multi-level 19,000 square-foot space, but in 2009 the Port Theatre Society was denied funding and the project was put back on the shelf.
However, the City of Nanaimo recently voted to provide $4.6 million toward the construction of the proposed Community Performing Arts Centre.
“The best time to build this was 15 years ago,” Halliday said. “The next best time to build this is now.”
There has already been a number of local groups interested in using the space that the Community Performing Arts Centre will provide. Halliday estimates that the studio theatre will see 150 nights of use within the first year and 250 within three years.
“TheatreOne is a perfect example,” Halliday said. “They are a professional theatre company that does not have a home. They want to be here. They are building the future of their company around this studio.”
The studio theatre portion is intended to be flexible, acoustically tunable and can accommodate all kinds of needs, such as contemporary dance, theatre and live music.
“It can be flat floor, rake seating, theatre in the round, theatre in three sides,” Halliday said. “Ultimately it will be able to be a perfect little 200-seat theatre.
“It will be a perfect theatre for contemporary dance and it will also be the perfect theatre for live music.
“As we know a lot of musicians can’t fill 800 seats. It doesn’t mean they’re not good musicians, it means maybe they’re emerging, or maybe they are local musicians just coming onto the scene.”
Halliday is expecting shovels to be in the ground by late 2015 and the expansion to be completed in 2017, in time for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations.
“This is going to be an amazing complex with a lot of options,” he said.