Voters will go to the polls on April 4 in a referendum to determine whether they will give the city permission to borrow up to $45 million toward the cost of proposed Kamloops Centre for the Arts, estimated to be $70 million.
The remainder of the budget for the three-theatre facility is expected to come from grants from senior levels of government and from fundraising efforts by arts groups.
KTW delves into how Sandman Centre is transformed into a venue for the performing arts — and the challenges a hockey arena poses for productions.
FROM ARENA TO ARTS
Celtic Illusion — a show that combines Irish dance with magic — was performed last week at Sandman Centre, but the show’s promoter said the touring act would have been better suited for the 1,200-seat main theatre in the proposed Kamloops Centre for the Arts.
“The experience for the customer or the consumer is you’re in a hockey arena,” Jelly Events promoter Bill Jaswal said, as crews were setting up.
“Listen. There’s background noises, there’s different pumps running, there’s lots of reflective material for audio to bounce off of. It’s not a perfect world. But we make do with what we have. As you know, if you had a theatre, you’d have perfectly set-up seats. You wouldn’t have to pay to set up a stage and cover ice and pull glass and do all that. Your sightlines are better. Acoustically, it’s better. All those reasons.”
Jaswal has been behind major events in Kamloops for a number of years, booking acts and putting bums in seats, which is part of how he gets paid.
Overlooking a flurry of activity in the home of the Kamloops Blazers, Jaswal gave his take on the arts centre debate. If Kamloops had a major theatre space, he said, time and money would be saved, quality of shows would improve and more acts would come to town.
TIME, MONEY TO TRANSFORM ARENA
Due to limited performance space in Kamloops, Sandman Centre is regularly transformed from an arena into an arts space.
Jaswal said he contacts Sagebrush Theatre regularly to book events, but noted last year he was only able to book one show at the venue because it’s “always booked” between Western Canada Theatre, Kamloops Symphony Orchestra, School District 73 and other uses. Mid-sized events that can’t be booked at Sagebrush end up at Sandman Centre, where hockey games may bookend a performance and crews work through the night to transform the building.
City of Kamloops arena supervisor Francois Chasse explained the ice sheet upon which the Blazers skate must be covered piece by piece in flooring — 520 composite boards, to be exact.
In addition, glass is removed from the boards, protective netting is rolled up to the ceiling, bleachers are retracted, fire escapes are altered, seating, handrails, lighting and audio are set up and a stage is built.
Chasse said a 10-person city crew began transforming Sandman Centre at 11 p.m. the previous night, working into the morning before Jaswal and Celtic Illusion’s crew took over to tailor the space.
KTW watched as chains were hung from the ceiling and two semi-trucks worth of gear was unloaded, leaving limited rehearsal time for the evening show.
The next day, the crews did it all again in reverse and it’s the same routine each time a new act comes to town.
“At the end of the day, for what it takes to set up for a show, it’d be better to have a theatre,” Chasse said.
And all of that work comes with extra costs, which Jaswal called “significant” (estimated at $20,000 for the Celtic Illusion show). The cost is charged to the act, but ultimately passed onto consumers at the box office.
“It makes the ticket price higher,” Jaswal said.
SHOW QUALITY IMPACTED
The arena setting impacts the quality of a show like Celtic Illusion, Jaswal said.
Based on the area market and seating and view limitations, the show was determined to be ideally suited for 1,500 people in Kamloops. With no performance space that size, it was held in a large, mostly vacant (much of Sandman Centre was closed off) 5,500-seat arena — the only performance space in Kamloops that could accommodate the show.
(For this reason, when small shows set up in the arena, people may be given the impression it did not sell well, even though it may be sold out.) In the arena setting, however, the seats aren’t as comfortable, ambiance is colder and acoustics are lacking.
“If you look [points up toward the ceiling and around the arena], you have some glass with the suites, but you have a lot of reflective metals and materials,” Jaswal said.
“When sound comes, it’s not absorbed by that. It just bounces around. When you have a loud rock and roll show or a loud country show, the P.A. is going to overpower that. But when you have a quieter show, you will have more issues that you have to deal with.
“Acoustically, an arena is an arena, it’s meant for those type of loud performances. It’s when you get into a show that goes from 100 decimals, down to 60 or 70 and goes back up. That’s where a theatre is so much better for the audio experience of a consumer.”
Celtic Illusion has since taken its show from Kamloops to the Lower Mainland, where it performed this week in theatres. It is unclear how many acts have opted against performing in Sandman Centre.
However, Jaswal said he knows of acts that travel through Kamloops — even staying overnight if they need a break for drivers — without performing.
Therein lies the opportunity for the proposed Kamloops Centre for the Arts, he said. Outside of Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, Jaswal said no theatre space accommodates 1,200 to 1,500 people. He said the arts centre would be a novel performance space (1,200 seats) in the B.C. Interior.
“I know shows that are coming through, just stopping, staying in hotels for their bus drivers and then leaving eight hours later — without doing a show,” Jaswal said.
“Because it could have fallen on a hockey game night and the Sagebrush is next to impossible to book. Just because of our traffic, how people from the Lower Mainland get to Alberta, they come right through Kamloops.”
The promoter envisions booking up-and-coming artists, golden oldies, speakers and comedians in the arts centre, if it proceeds. For a sample of potential offerings, Jaswal said one need only check on which shows are being booked at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver. Celtic Illusion performed there this week.
Jaswal said performers who have bypassed Kamloops in the past due to venue concerns include Dallas Green, Diana Krall and Sarah McLaughlin’s solo act.
Big arena names would continue to perform at Sandman Centre, he said, though smaller rock shows could be held at the arts centre.
Smaller rock shows have been performed at Sagebrush Theatre in the past and Jaswal said the 1,200-seat arts centre theatre would be adaptable for such shows, with the hiring of increased security.
“It works currently in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto,” he said.
“All of those shows are adaptable to go in. But, yes, there are certain shows, like electronic shows, or EDM shows, it’s not going to happen. It’s more of a performing arts, a public speaking, comedian, contemporary music type of venue.”
THE KELOWNA FACTOR
In addition to being booked up, the 690-seat school district-owned Sagebrush Theatre isn’t always as attractive as the Little Apple’s 853-seat Kelowna Community Theatre.
But if the Kamloops Centre for the Arts is built, it would trump Kelowna’s mid-sized performance venue.
River City residents may recall when Riverside Coliseum was built in the early 1990s, only to see Kelowna erect the slightly larger Prospera Place a few years later. Sandman seats 5,500, while Prospera has a seating capacity of up to 8,000 for various concerts.
Prospera Place has been known to draw acts like Elton John and Jerry Seinfeld, performers who did not come to Kamloops. Jaswal said the reason is those 1,200 extra seats. Still, a smaller community like Penticton sometimes draws acts that do not come to Kamloops.
“Just do simple math — 1,200 times $100 per ticket [$120,000],” Jaswal said.
“That money is not going to the artist. They have more capacity and you have one night you can spend in the Okanagan. Aren’t you going to go where you can maximize your return?” he said.
“The other thing is, at the end of the day, the more successful shows you have, the easier it is to land shows. If you’re selling out shows and you’re doing well in bringing the right shows and you get momentum going, people say, ‘Hey, I want to stop and do that.’”
Would Kelowna build a facility to render Kamloops Centre for the Arts inferior? Not likely, according to Jaswal.
“They’ve been talking about it for a number of years, but it’s not gotten anywhere,” he said.
(In November, Kelowna council looked at a report on city land downtown, with a new arts centre mentioned as a possibility, perhaps in the next five to 10 years.)
“The problem is, they’re at 860 and they don’t have an active symphony and theatre group, so they have a lot more avails,” Jaswal said. “They can fit in a lot more shows. Kamloops has so many user groups. I think when the trussing issue happened and Sagebrush was closed, I think every dance group in Kamloops had their performance in here [Sandman Centre].”
COULD ARTS CENTRE FREE UP ICE TIME?
As for what would happen to Sandman Centre should shows like Celtic Illusion be redirected to an arts centre, Jaswal pointed to a shortage of ice in the city following the 2015 closure of the privately owned Ice Box Arena.
Freeing up some space in Sandman Centre could have a ripple effect, he said.
“Think about this, all of the user groups who would have been using the ice today are not,” Jaswal said.
“They have to find space elsewhere because the ice won’t be turned around until 10 a.m., 9 a.m. tomorrow [day after show] morning. There’s always those people, but then there’s other things going on that could make use of this facility.
“I’m not saying Sandman Centre doesn’t have its place for live shows.
“You will not be able to put Cirque du Soleil in an arts centre. You will not be able to put those big, 5,000-capacity rock concerts in that.
“But you will be able to take a lot of shows that are being done, like tonight’s show [Celtic Illusion] or shows that have been done in the past, where we’ve tried to compromise to put them in here, but they’d be better suited in a performing-arts centre.”