The curtain is finally closing on the University of the Fraser Valley’s (UFV) theatre program in Chilliwack with a full move of faculty and classes to Abbotsford for September.
The transfer also spells the end of live performances in the theatre at the old Chilliwack north campus at the end of the academic semester in May.
And while there may be a sense of loss to theatre-goers in Chilliwack, the move is generally considered a positive one for faculty, students and the broader arts department.
“Overall the staff are really excited about this,” according to theatre department head Heather Davis-Fisch. “We are really all quite enthusiastic about the move, and we really think it’s going to benefit our students both in the program and across the university.”
The move of the program comes as no shock to anyone close to the department, as it was first announced — causing some consternation — more than five years ago.
At that time a group even formed, Friends of the Theatre (FOTT) who were upset about moving the “core” of the UFV theatre program from Chilliwack to Abbotsford. In 2011, UFV had not yet moved to the new campus at Canada Education Park (CEP).
The FOTT group was upset because members say there was a promise to build a new theatre at CEP, but plans changed.
“Our original plans identified CEP as the future site for a performance theatre, but there was no capital program or funding commitment for a facility,” then director of communications Leslie Courchesne said in 2011.
The UFV theatre at the old campus on Yale Road at Airport Road, is a 206-seat theatre designed for student learning. Approximately $150,000 was raised in 1995 to build the theatre, of that approximately 70 per cent (including $27,000 from the Rotary Club of Chilliwack) came from Chilliwack donors.
The plan to move the program to Abbotsford has been in the works so long, it was announced six years ago when Davis-Finch joined the department.
But it was the sale of the campus that hurried things along. Currently a portion of the campus is under construction for a residential development, and Cascade Christian School has moved into the old health sciences building.
In a press release issued Jan. 31, UFV said the school “continues to market the remaining property as part of its agreement with the provincial government.”
As for students and faculty, the move to Abbotsford makes sense for all involved, according to Davis-Fisch.
There are eight faculty and staff in the theatre department along with approximately 50 program students. Many of those students are taking other programs in the arts department, which is located in Abbotsford. There are also many arts students in Abbotsford that take — or might want to take — a theatre elective, something that will be made easier consolidating the arts department at that campus.
“Overall this is really beneficial for our students,” Davis-Fisch said. “Most are involved in other programs that are Abbotsford-based already.”
One thing Davis-Fisch, her faculty and students will not have, at least in the short-term, is a purpose-built performance theatre as exists in Chilliwack.
For the 2017-2018 school year, theatre students will put on shows in a teaching studio with a smaller capacity than Chilliwack’s theatre.
“The university’s plan is to, in the near future, [build] a full-scale theatre facility in Abbotsford,” she said.
The last chance to see a performance at the UFV Performance Theatre is Bakkhai by Euripides (a new version by Anne Carson) running March 9 to 19.