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British Columbia New arts centre could give Vancouver theatre community a boost

Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze on the set of Twelfth Night in Vancouver, June 4, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A new theatre and performing-arts production centre, to be shared by Vancouver's two largest theatre companies, could be heading for Southeast False Creek – with a potentially dramatic impact on the local cultural landscape.

A report to go before city council next week recommends the Arts Club Theatre Company and Bard on the Beach share a new space on West 1st Avenue, and receive $7-million in capital funding for the project – which is to include a 250-seat theatre, several rehearsal halls and costume and props shops, as well as office and storage space.

"It is fantastic," said Bard on the Beach artistic director Christopher Gaze. "It opens up possibilities for us and for everyone else."

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Much more than simply a new home for the two companies, the 4080-square-metre centre – which occupies most of the first two floors of two new condo towers – is being touted in the city report as "a substantive performing arts facility" that will become a collaborative "theatrical hub."

If the project is approved, the Arts Club plans to relocate its smallest venue – the 198-seat Revue Stage on Granville Island – to the new theatre, which could bring more life to the Olympic Village neighbourhood. The company would also move its prop and costume shops to the new centre.

"We're bursting at the seams," says Arts Club executive director Howard Jang, pointing out the company mounted 20 productions last season, and 18 this season. "Trying to build all the costumes for Mary Poppins and It's Snowing on Saltspring and our touring show Boeing-Boeing and Armstrong's War was impossible. So we've had to rent space, deal with storage of costumes."

For Bard on the Beach, it means consolidating operations – currently scattered ad hoc throughout the city, in whatever space has been available. And the summertime Shakespeare festival may mount productions off-season in the new theatre.

"You'll see a reshaping of Bard in the next few years," promises Mr. Gaze, whose company recently announced the hiring of a new managing director from Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre Company. "With a theatre in the building, it'll allow us strategically to develop new work."

And the rest of the theatre community will have access to new rehearsal space.

The city report calls for a 60-year lease for the two tenants at a cost of $10. Even with council approval, the Arts Club and Bard will jointly have to raise $5.8-million from "senior governments" and private donations to shape what is now a concrete shell into a theatre centre. Mr. Jang expects construction would take between 20 and 24 months.

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The centre was originally intended for the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, but after the company folded in 2012, the city sought new proposals for the space.

"I really applaud the city for thinking of cultural things, not ignoring that side of it," says Arts Club artistic managing director Bill Millerd. "I know that certainly it's sad that the Playhouse could not progress with it, but I think the fact that it is preserved for the theatre and the arts community is a very good thing for the city."

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