A scene from the Amy Ferguson Institute’s opera KHAOS

Amy Ferguson Institute contributes $15,000 to Capitol Theatre orchestra pit

The orchestra pit is an important but mostly unknown part of the theatre.

The Amy Ferguson Institute has contributed $15,000 to the Capitol Theatre to renovate the orchestra pit — the space under the stage used by live orchestras in large musical productions.

No one ever sees the orchestra pit other than the musicians playing in it, so the need for renovations might not be obvious to the public. But a recent investigation by a group of local architects, theatre designers and musicians determined there is a need for the following upgrades:

•Acoustically upgrade the pit (sound baffled floor/walls/ceiling)

•Improve the pit environment (ventilation, electrical, audio, additional electrical outlets, low temp lights, new chairs, painting, etc.)

•Upgrade the sound equipment (pressure zone mics/monitors in ceiling, connection to booth)

•Find a creative way (such as a flatscreen monitor) to make the orchestra visible to the audience (maybe in the lobby) if there are any leftover funds.

“We are excited that we are able to contribute to the theatre renovations,” said Dianna Ducs, Chair of the Amy Ferguson Institute. We had set aside $15,000 from (our) productions Jesus Christ Superstar, and the locally written and produced opera KHAOS in 2012, and earmarked the funds to go towards upgrades and renovations of the Capitol Theatre’s orchestra pit”.

The Amy Ferguson institute was founded in Nelson in 2000 to celebrate the musical legacy of Dr. Amy Ferguson, a much loved music teacher and mentor best remembered for the Nelson Boys Choir which she founded in 1930 and directed until her death in 1972.

The institute produces operas, musical theatre and choral events, including the upcoming world premiere of the opera Jorinda this fall.

Capitol Theatre executive director Stephanie Fischer said the donation is part of a long history of community support for the theatre, going back to its reconstruction and rescue from oblivion in the 1980s.

“Contributions such as this one show the love for the Capitol Theatre,” she said, “and acknowledge the importance of community support ensuring the protection and longevity of the theatre.”

She said the city, the province, the federal government, the Columbia Basin Trust, local businesses and individual citizens have over the years contributed to replacing the heating and ventilation systems, repairing and painting the building’s exterior, renovating the Green Room, installing a new wheelchair accessible wooden front entrance door, replacing the sub-flooring and marmoleum, replacing sinks and faucets in the washrooms, constructing a new loading dock, upgrading electrical and fire protective systems, replacing the theatre curtains, and upgrading lighting and sound equipment.

As for the orchestra pit, the changes won’t come any too soon. Opera singer and Amy Ferguson Institute director Marty Horswill says the pit is “claustrophobic and dangerous.”  The danger comes from the risk that a stage performer could fall through the opening on the stage floor onto the orchestra.

Musician and band-leader Rick Lingard has spent a lot of time in the pit and says it is an “unworkable concrete bunker” and he is very please to hear about the funding for the upgrades.

A survey of 1,000 Canadians commissioned by the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (PACT) from Nanos Research in March 2014 found that 84% of Canadians believe that live theatre plays an important or somewhat important role in “making communities across Canada vibrant places to live.” Support for this statement was particularly high in British Columbia (91%) and in Canadians between 18 and 29 years of age (also 91%).

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