Theatre scene alive and well in Victoria

Expanded offerings by one company indirectly helps others

Zachary Stevenson and Elena Juatco star in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. The show will be staged in Victoria in November.

Just three years ago, there was nowhere to see professional classical theatre in Victoria.

That’s when Brian Richmond, a longtime theatre producer and director, founded Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre. The company started by mounting three classics in the summer of 2008. In the seasons that followed, it added an annual Christmas reading, then a fourth summer show, and now, for its 2011-2012 season, there’s an ambitious fall show planned.

“We’re going to try to fill the Royal Theatre,” Richmond said. “It will be a test for us, and for theatre in Victoria, to see what we can support.”

The largest theatre in Victoria, the Royal is twice the size of Blue Bridge’s regular 700-seat venue, the McPherson Playhouse. And it’s where Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story will run for three shows in two days, Nov. 15 and 16.

It’ll be presented by Blue Bridge, but produced by Vancouver’s Art Club Theatre through a new partnership between the two companies. “We’ll see how it goes and if we can continue bringing big shows here,” Richmond said.

If Blue Bridge’s last season – it wrapped up this month with a two-week run of Paul Ledoux and David Young’s Fire – is any indication, audiences are keen to see its productions.

Ticket sales jumped 35 per cent over the previous year, with 12,000 seats sold.

“I think there’s a real hunger for classic theatre in Victoria that hasn’t been filled for a long time,” Richmond said.

The last company to focus on the classics was the New Bastion theatre, which folded in 1993. Keith Digby was artistic director of Bastion Theatre for six years and has been with Langham Court Theatre for nearly a decade. A keen theatre observer, he’s impressed by Blue Bridge’s early success.

“To start a new theatre company, especially a professional company, these days is an act of faith and courage,” he said. “Victoria is not a huge market to work in, but there’s a lot of support for theatre here.”

He’s not worried about another company cutting into Langham Court’s audience base.

“Theatre breeds theatre, we build off each other’s success,” Digby said, noting that Langham Court, going into its 83rd season, already runs at 80 per cent capacity in its 170-seat theatre with six shows per year.

The situation is much the same at the Belfry Theatre, where publicist Mark Dusseault has had to squelch rumors that the 300-seat theatre is always sold out.

“People think they can never get a seat here, which isn’t true,” he said. “It gets quite full, but there’s usually still seats available.”

As for the number of shows the company offers: four mainstage shows, one or two summer shows and the SPARK festival – it’s always either in rehearsals or running a show. “To do any more, we’d need more months in the year.”

Blue Bridge is hoping to get to that point, eventually.

“People are still just getting to know us,” Richmond said. “We’re building up slowly and seeing where we can go.”

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