They call it the Graham Theatre.
The well-equipped theatre inside G.W. Graham middle-secondary is not just a valuable school resource, it’s also available for rental, says Damon Fultz, coordinator of Graham Theatre, who teaches drama and acting at G.W. Graham.
“I think it’s important that any thriving theatre must stay relevant to the community that it serves,” Fultz says.
It makes sense for the theatre to forge ties with the larger community, and they’ve been running with that raison d’être since the theatre opened in 2006.
“Our mandate is not only to serve our school community, but the Chilliwack community as well,” says Fultz.
Graham theatre has enjoyed unwavering support from the school, as well as the school district from day one.
“It’s a wonderful partnership.”
But theatre officials sat down last year and crunched the numbers. They discovered theatre bookings were down by 50 per cent compared to a few years ago.
“We realized we weren’t getting as many community people using the space, and that’s a big concern,” he says. “The way that we survive as a theatre is through bookings.”
On a strict financial basis, they don’t receive any outside funding.
“So the only way to maintain and improve it is to increase the number of theatre bookings on a yearly basis.”
The Graham Theatre is both well maintained and well equipped, says Fultz.
“You walk in and it’s still got that new theatre smell,” he says. “It’s such a beautiful, intimate theatre space.”
They had more than 700 bookings over the past seven years, with an average of about 100 a year for events like concerts, meetings, recitals and performances.
The Theatre is known for some unique characteristics.
“First, it has some of the best acoustics of any theatre I’ve worked in, and I’ve worked in theatres all over the world,” says the acting and drama teacher.
“The theatre has beautiful sight lines, and the stage floor is trapped and sprung,” he says explaining that there are trap doors in the floor that can be used.
A “sprung” floor offers dancers a bit of bounce, and makes the surface more comfortable.
Graham Theatre also offers very nice lighting design, he says, which means they can stage any type of performance quickly, without too much advance set-up.
“You get so much for your rental, since a group gets access to not only the main stage but also to the dance studio in behind the stage. It’s a lovely space for warm-ups.”
The theatre feels intimate for both performers and audience alike.
“When you’re a performer on the Graham stage, the audience is right there,” he says.
Graham is one of the very few theatres making a very small profit, Fultz explains, and without receiving any additional funding, beyond what was spent by the province to build it.
“It means everyone who works here is a volunteer,” he says. “It’s a real strength but it also creates challenges.”
One goal for 2014 is to establish a corps of volunteers to start up a Friends of the Graham Theatre group to assist with growing the theatre operations.
This spring will see a joint production of Bye Bye Birdie between Graham Theatre and Newbury Productions.
“It’s an exciting project, and I think that’s the future for us,” Fultz offers. “We need more of these co-productions. We’re also now at the point where we need more community involvement to continue to grow.”