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COLUMN: Venue doesn’t match first-rate production

By today’s standards, the Rotary Performing Arts Centre hardly seems like an adequate venue for a town the size of Okotoks.
Hugh 'Bullshot' Crummond (left, played by Dave Hall) practices his 'sparring technique' with his friend Algy (Daniel Rose) in a rehearsal for Bullshot Crummond, opening Oct. 20 at the Rotary Performing Arts Centre.

I kicked myself for not getting out to the Dewdney Players’ production of The Full Monty last year, so when the local theatre group decided it was going to stage another English comedy, I knew I had to check it out. 

My wife and I made our way to the Rotary Performing Arts Centre last Thursday evening as Dewdney opened the third of its three-week run of Bullshot Crummond, an uproarious mystery set in the 1930s featuring a bumbling detective expertly played by Dave Hall. 

I’m far from a theatre critic, but the quality of the cast, and the production in general, was top notch, offering further proof why Dewdney plays are routinely recognized by the Calgary area theatre community. 

As good as the performance was, I have to say that I was more than a little underwhelmed by my first visit to the Rotary Performing Arts Centre. I don’t mean that as a slight on the considerable efforts that obviously went into transforming a century-old church into a home for the arts over a decade ago, but by today’s standards, it hardly seems like an adequate venue for a town the size of Okotoks. 

I guess you could charitably term the setting as intimate, which undoubtedly works in some instances, but it falls short as a place to host events of any significant scope. I can see why concerts and other performances often end up at the Foothills Centennial Centre or area churches where larger casts and audiences can be better accommodated. 

Church pews, even padded ones, aren’t terribly comfortable and given all the seating is on the same level, you better hope that the person sitting in front of you isn’t too tall. I don’t mean to be overly critical of the existing facility because without it local arts group would be in a real pickle, but I can see why there’s a move afoot to consider building something more substantial. 

It’s not the first church I’ve seen converted into an arts centre and I’ve also come cross a couple of old fire halls repurposed in such a way, but what all these buildings had in common is that as much as efforts were made to maximize their functionality, they simply fell short of fitting the bill. 

If arts and culture are to be an economic driver in this town, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be, it’s clear the current performing arts centre isn’t up to the task.

The cost of a new centre and the ability to fill it on a regular basis are significant hurdles to be sure, but there’s no reason they can’t be cleared if there’s sufficient will, both of the political and community variety. The Town has enviable recreation amenities, but when it comes to arts and culture, they are largely left to play out in retrofitted buildings never intended for such purposes. 

It would be nice, for both performers and audiences, that one day in the not-so-distant future they are able to come together in a purpose-built venue that does justice to this town’s arts and culture community. 

Ted Murphy

About the Author: Ted Murphy

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