On April 2, 2012 I opened the Nelson Star and there was my friend Cindy Sherry. She was talking about the long-closed Civic Theatre, saying “the community has got to step up” to see it reopened. Councillor Donna Macdonald agreed, suggesting that: “we need a gang of champions from the community to come together.”
I called Cindy that same day, mostly to say that the Vienna was likely going to be a little small for the meeting she’d proposed.
“Are you coming?” she asked.
The truth was, I hadn’t planned to. I’d taken a break from volunteering in order to write a novel, and I know what happens when I go to things like this. But “sure,” I said. Cindy and I had known each other for 20 years, but saw each other seldom. It would be nice to get together.
When I arrived the meeting had moved to the Best Western to accommodate the crowd, with Cindy, Josh Wapp, and Jane Miller trying to distil a roomful of enthusiasm into something approaching common ground. By the end, with a list of people willing to sit on an ad-hoc committee in hand, I knew the first challenge had been met.
So we had step-up in spades; but would we have champions?
Cindy and Josh and a host of stalwarts pounded the pavement with survey forms, while behind the scenes learning curves soared. The May 31 proposal date set by the City was a crazy deadline, not made any easier by letters to the editor dismissing the flaky group intent on saving a dinosaur. Doesn’t everyone just watch Netflix these days, anyway?
We knew that a theatre was about shared experience; it was about community. We met that deadline, and the City gave us until October 15 for a comprehensive business case, making it clear that signatures on a survey were not enough; we’d need paid members to prove community buy-in.
So it was back to championship pavement-pounding. We formed the Nelson Civic Theatre Society, with a dynamite board of directors. Volunteers manned tables; Josh in his usher uniform was everywhere. Save-On-Foods offered in-store space and Speedpro Signs made a life-size cutout so Josh wouldn’t have to move in permanently. By deadline, more than 1,000 people had made that leap of faith.
It’s been a most extraordinary 18 months. Media sponsors the Nelson Star, The Bridge, EZ Rock, and Kootenay Co-op Radio got behind us to get the word out, enabling us to raise $185,000 for digitization and renovations. Columbia Basin Trust pledged major support, and local businesses stepped up to the plate.
Today, we have 2,117 members. And since we opened with digital projection and sound and began showing films five days a week, you’ve been filling the theatre.
Netflix? I don’t think so.
Our champions run the gamut from pavement-pounders to popcorn-baggers to cleaners, carpenters, committee members and movers-and-shakers — way more people that I can possibly mention in this column. For everything you see on the surface, 20 million things are going on in the background.
It’s big. It’s daunting. And somehow we need to get to three theatres to be the community hub Nelson deserves. But we have the step-up, and we have the champions.
Thanks to a fabulous, passionate board, committee chairs and members, volunteers and donors. Thanks to our key staff people, who ensure we are upwardly mobile in every possible sense.
This coming Sunday’s first Annual General Meeting is a milestone, and a testament to the power of community. Doors open at noon for appies, meeting is at 1 p.m., with a free movie afterwards; if you’re a member, you want to be there to witness this milestone and help us celebrate our champions — you.
There is just one founding board member not going forward into Year Two of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society — me. That novel’s been waiting, and it’s time. Oh, I’ll still be involved; how could I not be? It has been a privilege to be part of this ongoing story, in which a community steps up, and becomes a gang of champions.
But, uh, Cindy? Next time we talk on the phone, how ’bout we just make a coffee date…
Anne DeGrace is the president of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society. Large Popcorn, Extra Butter runs every two weeks. If you have a Civic Theatre memory to share please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out about movies and more: go to civictheatre.ca