Kelowna arts groups thrilled and terrified as plans move forward on a new theatre - InfoNews

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Kelowna arts groups thrilled and terrified as plans move forward on a new theatre

Kelowna Community Theatre is at the end of its life. While the city considers building a new performing arts centre, some arts groups are terrified of the ramifications if the new building is built in the same spot.
October 25, 2019 - 5:00 PM

A new, 1,200-seat Kelowna performing arts centre would be a “game changer” for arts groups like the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.

It could greatly enhance the viability of the organization, Music Director Rosemary Thomson told iNFOnews.ca. But, depending on how it’s built, there's a risk that it could kill it.

“The plan to tear down the existing building before building a new one is terrifying for us,” she said. “I know from talking to Simone (Orlanda) from Ballet Kelowna, if they were to rebuild it on the same site that would mean the Kelowna Community Theatre would be torn down. That would be the demise of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Kelowna.”

A report going to city council Monday says the key first step towards a new facility is to determine the number of seats and suggest either 850 (close to what it is now) or 1,200 – which is Thomson’s preferred option, noting that balconies can be closed off for smaller performances.

The report also has a drawing showing it on the same site as the current theatre.

The Kelowna Legacy Group has suggested building it on the city hall parking lot so there are no interruptions for arts groups.

Either way, a new theatre is essential for the viability of user groups as they struggle with the bad acoustics in the existing building.

Thomson explained that the current theatre has seats rising towards the rear of the theatre but the ceiling also slopes down towards the back.

“For a good hall, you want height so music has bloom to it,” Thomson said. “What happens to the sound at the Kelowna Community Theatre is the ceiling rakes down. What that does is it compresses the sound. It’s probably one of the driest, least resonant concert halls I’ve ever been in.”

That means, for example, that some symphony patrons will drive to see them perform in Vernon rather than Kelowna, just because the sound is so much richer there. It also means artists travelling between Vancouver and Calgary stop off in Vernon instead of Kelowna.

Thomson pointed to the St. Catharines, ON symphony that had trouble selling out 500 seats. It now routinely sells out in a new theatre that’s twice the size. That not only brings economic benefits to the city but increases the viability of the orchestra.

While the report going to council doesn’t talk about design or acoustics, it is a first step towards having that discussion.

There is no formal organization of arts groups in Kelowna – Thomson said she’s too busy with her own job to lead such an effort – but people are starting to talk.

“I’ve seen a bit of a groundswell start to happen,” she said. “I do think, if we can start to put all of us together, with our energy, hopefully we can start to put a serious proposal together.”

To her, that would be to relocate to the city hall parking lot, not just to keep operating through the construction phase.

“The appeal of something on the parking lot is that there’s nothing across the street in front of it, just the park,” she said. “Just imagine the lobby that can be built there and take advantage of that glorious view. I think Kelowna is so right for a stunning building that celebrates arts and culture right in the heart of our city."


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