The Need for Theatre Space in Vancouver

How many theatres are there in Vancouver?

The question is always: Do we need another theatre, and who would use it? Here’s the answer: In 2006 the Coal Harbour Arts Complex Society led an inventory of existing performance spaces and a survey of potential theatre users. The following is a condensation of the results.

The inventory found that there were 22 venues seating under 500, divided up as follows:

  • Under 200 seats: 9
  • 200-350 seats: 9
  • 350-500 seats: 4
  • Total Theatres: 22
A closer look is more revealing

Of the venues under 200 seats, the Arts Club Revue, Studio 58, Pacific Theatre, and Jericho Arts Centre are used, almost exclusively, by resident companies. This leaves Robson Square (200), Western Front (100), Vancouver Art Gallery (150), Heritage Hall (150), and Maison de la Francophonie (100). Not one of these is actually a theatre or purpose built performance space.

The 200-350 seat range includes the Waterfront Theatre (240), the Vancouver Academy of Music Recital Hall (284), the WISE Hall (225), the UBC School of Music Recital Hall (289), Tom Lee Music (240), Performance Works (250), The Roundhouse (250), the Norman Rothstein Theatre (318), and The Dance Centre (240). Anyone who has attended an event or worked in any of these venues knows that, with the exception of the Norman Rothstein Theatre, they are either black boxes, converted spaces, or recital halls.

The four venues seating 350-500 are The Arts Club Granville Island (450), the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (360), the Frederic Wood Theatre at UBC (410), and the Metro Theatre (399). Only the Vancouver East Cultural Centre is generally available for rental.

Anyone looking for theatre space of this size is faced with approximately two choices.

The list of larger (500-3000 seats) venues is considerably smaller. It includes the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (2813), the Orpheum Theatre (2788), the Vancouver Playhouse (673), the Commodore Ballroom (900), the Vogue Theatre (1144), the Centre, former Ford Theatre (1800), the Chan Centre (1200), and the Stanley (650). When it comes to availability and affordability, only the Vogue Theatre would be a consideration for local groups.

A local performing arts group looking for a dedicated theatrical venue of practical size has only three choices, each of which comes with its own unique problems.

A Theatre – Who Needs it

In February of 2006, a survey of 220 local arts groups was conducted in order to assess potential usage of performance venues of various sizes.

  • 200 seats: 401 uses
  • 450 seats: 359 uses
  • 600 seats: 155 uses
  • 1000 seats: 117 uses
  • 1500 seats: 15 uses
  • 1800 seats: 195 uses

In conclusion, theatres of the size of the York Theatre (450-500) and the Pantages Theatre (650), there would be in the range of 514 to 915 uses per year. Indications are that a theatre the size of the Vogue (1144) could attract 132 uses by local groups. These figures do not include bookings by touring or out-of-town performing organizations.

Of notable significance is that each of these three historic theatres was purpose built. That is they are proscenium theatres with dedicated seating (each has a balcony), appropriate audience amenities, dressing rooms, and fly galleries. And each theatre has played a significant role in Vancouver’s cultural history.

Looking at these figures, it is hard to believe that the York Theatre, the Pantages Theatre, and the Vogue Theatre are dark, empty, and unused. All three require repair, restoration, and revitalization. All three await the support of the City, of corporations, and of individuals. We hear much talk of Vancouver as a “Creative City,” now is the time to turn that idea into a reality.

Survey information was taken, with thanks, from:
Coal Harbour Arts Complex Planning Study + Program Assessment
Created by Bing Thom Architects for the Coal Harbour Arts Complex Society