Local theatre groups are expressing concerns but also hope for better days when it comes to the operation of the Eagle Eye Theatre, which is located within Howe Sound Secondary.
Melissa Braun, founder and principal of Squamish Academy of Music, operates the popular Broadway or Bust (BOB) program each summer out of the theatre.
This year, BOB, the musical theatre intensive program, will be at the Eagle Eye Theatre from July 10 to 29.
Braun said she had trouble booking the theatre through the school district, and was told community bookings were being turned away unless the group has its own tech person. Further, her costs increased substantially for the rental compared with when she booked it pre-pandemic.
She said it took a long time to even get her days booked through the system, with long delays from the request to confirmation.
Registration for the BOB summer program is now open, but the cost has increased for parents, reflecting the substantial increase Braun is facing for the theatre.
On top of an increase, she is also being charged the commercial rate, which the program wasn’t previously.
"In the past, community bookings were not being charged the commercial rate but the community-nonprofit rate ….Between the shifts to a commercial rate and the shift with the price increase, my rates have literally gone from $2,900 was what I paid ... pre-pandemic for my three-week program. And this year, my quote was $11,300," she said.
"It has always been important to me to keep the price of the three-week program within a range that is sustainable but also affordable. Unfortunately, this cost increase will be reflected in the price of the program," Braun told families in a recent email.
Between Shift Theatre’s Kathy Daniels told The Squamish Chief that the non-profit rate for her group has more than doubled.
“They went up over 100%,” she said.
Daniels noted that Eagle Eyes’s fees are still less than what is charged in many other communities. Those theatres, though, often come with technical support, she said.
Who is in charge of what at Eagle Eye?
According to the school district, the Eagle Eye Theatre is governed by a Joint Use Committee, comprised of two representatives of the school board or their designates, two representatives of the District of Squamish or their designates and one of the community arts council.
As per the agreement, the operations and performances are the responsibility of the District of Squamish and the council, according to the school district.
The District of Squamish told The Squamish Chief the theatre is operated by the District and SD48 jointly under the agreement.
SD48 acts as the landlord of the Eagle Eye Theatre, the school district spokesperson said.
Theatre bookings and technician co-ordination are handled by SD48, according to the District of Squamish. Technicians are paid for by the theatre user.
The school district spokesperson said that the fee increase, which applies to all SD48 facilities available for rental, came into effect in July 2022. Regarding the Eagle Eye theatre specifically, the spokesperson said all typical theatre users in Squamish were notified via email in April 2022 of the upcoming fee changes taking effect in July 2022.
Additionally, this information is available on the district website.
"The 2022 non-profit rate fee increase covers operational cost recovery, and the commercial rate fee increase will allow for the development of an improvement fund for the facility," the SD48 spokesperson said.
Braun told The Squamish Chief that if there are significant improvements coming to the theatre, then perhaps it is justifiable, but that isn't clear so far, she said.
"If [the increase] is going to result in improvement in the areas of concern — if this means that we can better staff it, we can better maintain it, the booking system becomes more reliable, and access is improved, then maybe that's ... a price increase we need to adjust to. And that's just the way it is in order to have a properly-run facility. But I guess the pricing hits extra hard, when I've had major issues with bookings over the last year; it's been very difficult just to get a booking."
The District of Squamish said theatre maintenance and upgrades are paid for by the District and SD48 and through any revenue generated by bookings.
Daniels said while the theatre is kept up in terms of paint and curtains and the like, the technical capacity of the theatre could use improvements.
She said that having a technical director tied to the theatre would be a huge help and could possibly bring in more revenue for it by drawing more new groups to use Eagle Eye.
It’s a challenge to parse out who is responsible for technicians, as an old theatre operating agreement states the municipality agreed to provide and pay for trained personnel to operate lighting equipment. On the other hand, the District says it’s up to SD48 and users to co-ordinate and pay technicians.
Technical staff are hired on a contract basis for productions and are not employees of the School District or District of Squamish, the spokesperson said, pointing to the 1996 Theatre Operating Agreement, which is currently under revision, that states:
“The Municipality agrees that it will provide at its cost and expense trained personnel to operate the lighting equipment in the theatre for its activities and those of the groups authorized by it.”
The revised agreement will consider other arrangements for the hiring of technical staff, the school district spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added there have been challenges with securing technical staff to help with productions.
The District, on the other hand, said, “Theatre bookings and technician co-ordination are handled by SD48. Technicians are paid for by the theatre user.”
Braun said when the topic of a new arts facility comes up, mention is usually made that there is the Eagle Eye Theatre. She has always supported the idea that it should be used to its maximum, but that is increasingly difficult, she said.
"However it was worked out, we've ended up with a facility that has a lot of great resources in it. It's a very usable space for a lot of groups. And I do think that it makes sense to me that we should be utilizing that facility to its maximum and really [get] a good handle on how to utilize that facility to its maximum before building another facility — I can get behind that. But I think that's where my concern has really come in now it's becoming very difficult to access [the Eagle Eye Theatre]. So it also becomes difficult for us to advocate for more space when we're not fully utilizing that space. But we're hitting up against a lot of barriers if we use that space."
It can be hard to express to folks not in the arts the meaning of these arts and culture programs like BOB.
They are a powerful outlet for youth to express themselves, feel seen and grow, she said.
The District of Squamish, SD48 and arts and culture stakeholders met on Wednesday, March 8.
The previous meeting of this group was in February 2022. At that meeting, the fee increase for the Theatre was reviewed and supported. Since February 2022, District of Squamish staff have met twice with SD48 staff to discuss updates and opportunities within the existing Theatre Operating Agreement.
Hopeful for future
Braun and Daniels look forward to what the revamped agreement will hold.
“They are now going in the process of starting to rehaul that entire agreement and hopefully have it more for community theatre. Hopefully, it'll be more favourable to community theatre users or other users [to] make it less difficult for them,” Daniels said.
Needs assessment underway
The District said it recognizes the need for cultural infrastructure. Therefore staff are considering Arts and Culture venues among the projects within the District’s Real Estate and Facilities Master Plan (REFMP).
District staff began engaging with the arts community in 2018 regarding its future needs through the development of the REFMP.
“Through this process, the need for administrative, maker, storage and artists showcase spaces was identified, along with a Performing Arts Centre,” said the District’s Rachel Boguski in a follow-up email to The Squamish Chief after Wednesday’s meeting.
“At that time, it was contemplated in order to maximize the District’s financial resources to meet ‘critical’ needs, the District could provide the following support without building standalone facilities: grants to support leasing from third-parties or providing spaces where possible inside larger District facilities or by creating multi-user space.”
“The REFMP also recognized that a Performing Arts Centre requires specialized space and that upon further analysis and completion of the Arts, Culture and Heritage Strategy, the District may support this use through ‘provision of a long-term land lease on District property’ or ‘supporting further renovations to the Eagle Eye Theatre,” Boguski added.
The REFMP also prioritized arts, cultural and heritage spaces in the ‘support’ category after ‘critical’ and ‘core’ categories, she said.
She noted that council endorsed the District’s continued exploration for space solutions by endorsing the REFMP in 2019, including the following recommendation:
“Exploring opportunities to support Squamish Arts (formerly Squamish Arts Council) future needs — without constructing a standalone facility — consistent with the recommendations of the upcoming Arts, Culture and Heritage Strategy, is recommended.”
Subsequent to the REFMP, the Arts Culture and Heritage Strategy (ACHS) was endorsed by council in 2020. Under the key principle of ‘Optimize Space’ (Action 6) provide recommended several tactics to ‘Establish the future direction for the development or redevelopment of cultural facilities’.
“Under the guidance of the above policy statements, staff have identified potential opportunities to incorporate arts spaces into a future replacement of Municipal Hall,” Boguski said.
Further engagement occurred with Squamish Arts to determine if the space needs identified in 2018 were still relevant. Further preliminary discussions also were undertaken to determine the potential sizes of these spaces, she added.
Squamish Arts received a $25,000 Arts Infrastructure Program grant from BC Arts Council towards a Future Needs Assessment to inform how arts and culture could be incorporated into municipal infrastructure. (For more information please visit squamisharts.com/about.)
The Squamish Chief reached out to Squamish Arts for its perspective, but no one was currently available to comment. We will follow up if and when we hear back.