By Alidë Kohlhaas
By the time you read this, Burlington's spanking new performing arts center will be open for business, so to speak. In addition, a community party will be in the offing on Sunday, October 23 that you may not want to miss. But let me take you back a few weeks before the new edifice opened its doors to the public.
The backstage of a theater is always a fascinating place, but especially so at a brand-new facility where all the bones, so to speak, are still exposed. In this bare format is how the Burlington Performing Arts Centre (BPAC) revealed itself to me during a tour only weeks away from its first season launch with balladeer Royal Wood on October 1, 2011.
My guide, the BPAC's technical supervisor Christopher Greenhalgh (Chris), took me up and down staircases that will be inaccessible to audiences. His love for the place is clearly evident in every comment he made while he pointed out the details built into his domain by architects, Diamond + Schmitt. They also happen to be the architects of Toronto's opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, Montreal's newly inaugurated concert hall, and the New Mariinksy Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The 'Centre' as the BPAC staff members like to call their new home has two theaters: the main stage seats 718, the a studio theater seats up to 200. The latter can be configured many ways. While this smaller space is known as 'the black box', in reality it can be changed to expose one large windowed wall for non-theatrical gatherings. Chris said that the comfortable, red main stage seats come in three sizes, 20 inches, 21' and 22'. That is encouraging for those who want not only comfort but also space. In the theater's boxes, comfortable chairs are moveable to allow patrons to choose how they will view a performance. The lower boxes are wheelchair accessible, and if needed the permanent seats on the orchestra level can also be adjusted for wheelchairs.>
As we walked across the stage, which at that moment was the depository of heavy, overhead stage lights that still needed to be hung, I bounced to test its not quite finished sprung floor. Was it suitable for ballet that features large in this first season? Yes. It felt perfect. Among several ballet companies booked is the State Ballet Theatre of Russia with performances of its production of the Nutcracker set for December 13 and 14.
One of the innovations at the BPAC is that below the stage the orchestra can hide from view, but if needed, it can be raised to stage level. There is also an elevating device to bring up the Shigeru Kawai EX, a nine-foot grand piano that the BPAC acquired with the help of private donations.
For productions requiring sets, the six-storey high fly tower can accommodate their needs. At the same time it is here where one of the many safety feature of the new building is evident. Chris took me to just below the iron grid that allows stage hands to walk safely 'in the clouds' yet have a good view of the stage well below them. It would be difficult here to replicate one of Agatha Christie's stories in which a murderer drops a heavy piece of scenery on his victim from above. Still, even here at the BPAC, no one with vertigo need apply.
Sound is always an important factor in a new performing facility. Honey-colored wooden walls and stalls are one of the BPAC's features for good sound. As well, Chris pointed at the huge black baffle clothes that can be lowered on walls and brought out from hidden alcoves to suit the sound needs of various productions. Of course, it will take time for staff to work out the various permutations for sound needs Chris implied.
For performers there are spacious dressing rooms, a Green Room to relax in, and a rehearsal hall with a sprung floor. My guide called it the marshaling room since it has at present a large conference table for meetings. Since the BPAC is a city-owned facility, no plastic water bottles are allowed. Instead, performers can use water filling stations in the hall ways for refillable bottles. There are also drinking fountains. Municipal bylaws also forbid bus idling. To ensure performer tour buses don't lose power they can be plugged into the Centre's power grid.
As for acts at the new space, Stuart McLean & the Vinyl Café will appear on Oct. 30 in two shows. Also among the myriad acts booked for the BPAC is internationally acclaimed Burlington native, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka (Nov. 10). The Centre's big fund-raising event, referred to as The Red Carpet Evening, is set for Dec. 3. It will feature special guest Sarah McLachlan. Musical performances during this first season will range from classical to folk, rock and jazz.
A detailed performance list can be viewed on the BPAC's website at www.burlingtonpac.ca, or by visiting the theater's box office at 440 Locust St. Details can also be obtained by calling the box office at 905-681-6000. You can also go to the website and download a PDF brochure of things to come.