With rugged terrain and a reputation for raising athletes and adventurers, Squamish But there’s more to this mountain town. Upon closer inspection, it’s clear the community is simultaneously undergoing a slow and steady shift toward becoming just as big a hub for performing arts. These days, you’re as likely to spot Squamish kids onstage as you are to see them on the slopes. So what is on offer in town for those interested in music, theatre or dance? If music is calling, the SQUAMISH ACADEMY OF MUSIC (better known to locals as SAM) has the answer.
There, students of all ages can learn how to play a wide array of instruments in group or private settings, or participate in its popular musical theatre program and productions.
Now in its ninth season, SAM’s students are beginning to spread their wings, attending summer intensive programs across the country, showcasing their skills during local performances and even heading off to study music at the post-secondary level.
The space frequently hosts jam nights and also offers acting classes through a partnership with BETWEEN SHIFTS THEATRE. The local community theatre society, which has frequently taken home the top prize at community theatre festivals, is currently in its 26th year. This season, you can catch three Between Shifts productions: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe will serve as Between Shifts annual Christmas production, while Sexy Laundry and Dead Man’s Cell Phone — one production artistic director Kathy Daniels calls “more contemporary and a little more experimental”— are both scheduled to hit the stage in the spring. You can also find local performers showcasing their talents throughout town at events like Amped in the Park, the annual outdoor performance summer series put on by the Squamish Arts Council, the yearly Howe Sound Music Festival (an initiative of the Howe Sound Performing Arts Association) and other community events.
It’s no secret that a booming population that is straining our housing stock is partly responsible for the similar uptick Squamish’s performing arts scene is currently experiencing.
As families head up the Sea to Sky highway in search of a smaller community, an active lifestyle and semi-affordable housing, they’re also seeking artistic opportunities for their children. Up-and-coming local performers now have a vast range of options when it comes to exploring their creativity. Whether it’s ballet, jazz, hip-hop or acrobatics that piques your interest, you can find hundreds of dancers honing their craft at three local studios — SQUAMISH DANCE CENTRE (SDC), HOWE SOUND DANCE ACADEMY (HSDA), and THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE (TPAC).
“For my business, it’s more the young families that are being attracted to Squamish,” said Sara Constantin, owner and director of Squamish Dance Centre. The studio, which caters to dancers looking for a fun, recreational atmosphere, opened its doors in January 2016.
“Our biggest group right now is ages two to seven; it’s our bread and butter,” Constantin continued. “They’re going to stay with us for a while, which is expanding horizons.” When Melissa Braun founded SAM in 2011, the music academy had five teachers. Now, it has 14 — not to mention over 400 students. While beautiful places like Squamish have historically attracted artists searching for inspiration, “As people move here who have maybe lived in urban areas, they’re accustomed to having access to [the performing arts] so they’re seeking out those opportunities,” Braun added. “Over the last two years, the demand has increased significantly, especially at the six-to-10 age range.”
QUALITY AND QUANTITY
Despite the fact that Howe Sound Dance Academy tends to focus its efforts on competitions and examinations — about half of its 200 students are committed members of HSDA’s competition team, according to studio director Alicia Fortin — her students “bike, they ski, they are doing all these different types of activities outside of dance.”
“Parents want their kids to have more experiences, not one specific thing, which I think is so great,” continued Fortin, who purchased the studio in July after 12 years with the 22-year-old academy.
“It’s opening the door for their kids to find their true passion, and it’s making them better, too. These dancers are true athletes. They’re strong.” That athleticism contributes to the impressive level of professionalism Fortin’s students bring to the stage, she said. Jennifer Carney, director of The Performing Arts Academy, views the numerous other activities her students participate in as “cross-training.”
While she strives to help develop “dynamic and diverse dancers” when her students are in class at TPAC’s downtown Squamish studio, “It’s nice to be able to dip your paintbrush, so to speak, in every colour without feeling like ‘Oh, I can’t be a part of this,’ or ‘This isn’t going to help me with that,’” she said. “There’s so much that dance has to offer.”
SEARCHING FOR SPACE
As Squamish’s performing arts scene continues to blossom, the community’s lack of a common, multipurpose performance space is becoming more and more apparent. “It’s been an uphill struggle trying to get people in the community to realize there is a theatre in this town,” said Daniels of Between Shifts. “There’s no main box office, there’s no art entre.
There’s nothing like that here. Everyone in Squamish tends to work in satellites; quite isolated and we’ve been trying to bring people together. “I do find there’s a lot—a lot—of musicians here in Squamish,” Daniels continued. “There’s so many musicians and painters and dancers. Everybody’s looking for an outlet or a venue or some way to explore and show people the stories they want to tell ... I do feel like Squamish could be — could be — on the verge of sort of a renaissance of arts, but it really needs some political will and leadership to help everybody come together and start working together as an arts community.
Eventually, Constantin too would like to see the community continue to work together to create “a proper performing arts theatre,” and rehearsal space, something she thinks would be integral in supporting the arts’ continued growth in Squamish. Currently, local performing arts businesses share use of the Eagle Eye Theatre at Howe Sound Secondary School with the school district, which can be logistically challenging when taking into account the theatre’s limited capacity and high demand. In the meantime, “a bit of a community hub” is something Braun has been striving to foster at SAM’s brick-and-mortar space. “I think it allows people to find one another a little bit more.
Even just the jam nights, for example. It’s a place where sometimes people will come because they’re newer to town and they’re looking for a place where they can meet other people,” she said.
“We’re trying to bring in all the elements of a space where artists can connect and be supported.