COLUMN: The Civic Theatre turns seven

Brian May on the past and future of the community theatre

By Brian May

The last time I added a few words to this space the editor ended it by saying “This column appears now and then.” For two seconds tops, I mulled over whether this was a simple statement of fact or if I was being gently prodded to be more consistent. Either way I accepted it. The beauty of an unpaid gig is that it lessens the weight of obligation so I embraced it.

It’s summer. The vegetables needed watering, guests deserved warm welcomes, and clouds were begging to be gazed at. Well, thanks to my resident gardener, the vegetables are doing well and the clouds … they’re vaporizing. So enough of that. The Nelson Civic Theatre Society just turned seven and there’s always something to talk about when you’re offering More than Movies.

We could chat about news, events, movies, or our rant du jour, but a month ago a few of us found ourselves sitting on the stage talking about urban planning and that got me to thinking: How do our plans fit into community plans?

The Civic’s goal has always been to develop into a media arts centre with diverse cinema, symposia, film production, and tailored events for all age groups but seven years ago I don’t think the society board and volunteers were guided by decades of planning documents. They just felt that Nelson was missing something vital and knew that the abandoned auditorium needed a lot of elbow grease. If sound urban planning mirrors community values and informs decisions, those same values would have guided the theatre volunteers.

Over 30 years ago the city’s Official Community Plan encouraged development of a strong mixed-use downtown partly by discouraging growth outside of the core; a principle that was quite different from other towns in B.C. The result is the vibrant downtown we enjoy today.

The 2013 OCP built on those values, quoting the Downtown Master Plan, which said “The downtown offers a mixture of uses such as: retail, hotels, restaurants, office space, arts, culture facilities, and housing. This mixture of uses helps establish a more diverse, thriving community of people.” Having a media arts centre in the middle of that mix connects patrons to everything the downtown offers as well as a connection to a wider world. It’s no surprise that similar diversity values show up in Civic Theatre and city planning documents.

The Path to 2040 cultural goals include “Using arts, heritage, recreation and our greatest community asset, our diversity, to create meaningful learning opportunities.” The Railtown Neighbourhood Action Plan mentions supporting anticipated market demand for new jobs, and creating a walkable, livable, compact community. The Downtown Master Plan market analysis section even touches on economic value when it points out that “The success of a downtown can be distilled down to an ability to attract people and assuring that they remain in the area. … The downtown must possess a magnet to give people a reason to live and work in the area.”

Having a single screen may limit us from being that magnet for a while but it hasn’t limited us from offering More than Movies. Here’s the quick list of current diverse plans.

With film sponsorship from eight breweries, the Columbia Basin Brewery Competition is ramping up again, the Hamber Foundation donated some funds to organize community symposia, Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance provided a mentorship grant to support the 315-member Screen Based Industry (SBI) group, our Super 8 film processing competition was popular with Nelson’s emerging filmmakers and staff recently met with SBI workers in Creston to support industry co-ordination in their community.

Then on the partnership front we’ve had promising discussions about a joint festival event in fall 2020 that involves both film and tech sectors. But if none of that catches your fancy we also have cinema. Lot’s of cinema. By the end of the summer we’ll start up our Summer of Sundance series with a wide array of critically acclaimed film. Stay tuned.

Planning exercises try to convert community values into actions to build a thriving livable community and by all metrics a media arts centre fits well into that liveability mix. And to think that seven years ago the volunteers just wanted to scrape the gum off the abandoned seating and get a sound system that didn’t crackle. That was yesterday. Today we’re planning for tomorrow.

Until then, a toast, to the Nelson Civic Theatre’s seventh year! Here’s looking at you, kid.

Large Popcorn, Extra Butter appears when the time is right.

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