Where are they now?

What have they been up to? Follow up with your favourite artists from our 2018/19 season.

The 2018/19 season has come to an end and we’re getting pumped for our 2019/20 season. But before we dive right into it, here is a look back at some of the amazing artists we got to work with this past year. A lot of them have been up to really cool things since we saw them last!

Read to see what they have been up to, and learn where you can find out more about their upcoming projects.

Scroll through, or click on the name of one of the 23 shows, to be taken directly to that part of the post: Kamloopa, Testosterone, A Vancouver Guldasta, A Brief History of Human Extinction, The Ones We Leave Behind, The Believers are but Brothers, Backbone, SmallWar, Three Winters, This Duet That We’ve Already Done (so many times), East Van Panto: Wizard of Oz, Little Dickens, Dakh Daughters, Mrs Krishnan’s Party, Power Ballad, This is the Point, Much Ado About Nothing, Children of God, Hot Brown Honey, Multiple Organism, New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken, Act of Faith, NASSIM.


KAMLOOPA

What a way to start off our 2018/19 season! We had so much fun having Kim Senklip Harvey‘s powerful and hilarious Kamloopa in our Historic Theatre last fall. It was an honour to have such powerful matriarchs bringing down the house each night! After leaving us, Kamloopa continued its tour, heading to Saskatchewan for a run at Persephone Theatre.

What have they been up to?

If you saw Kamloopa, you will recognize Yolanda Bonnell, who played ‘Indian Friend #1’. Bonnell is a playwright, and was recently announced to be one of 50 international playwrights chosen to be part of Climate Change Theatre Action 2019 – “a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented biennially to coincide with the United Nations COP meetings.” Follow Climate Change Theatre Action on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date.

You may have seen Kamloopa Firestarter (who wrote and directed the ceremony), Kim Senklip Harvey, when she and Pippa Mackie hosted Pitch, Bitch or Ditch, a fun Femme Series event in the vein of ‘Dragons Den’, where audience members brought their ideas for a show to the expert panel.

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BIG EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!!! Kim Senklip Harvey (writer/director of Kamloopa) and I have created and are hosting a one night only event at the Cultch Historic theatre titled : Pitch, Bitch or Ditch ! (It’s like the Dragons Den of theatre) This is going to be absolutely insane, wild and surprising! (As part of the Cultch Femme Series) @thecultch Monday January 14th 8pm Only $10 !!!!!!!! This is one of those moments you should buy a ticket in advance. Ticket link in my bio!  What is this? Have you grown bored of theatre? When was the last time a show really excited you? Do you have an idea for a show? Join theatre creators and producers Kim Senklip Harvey and Pippa Mackie for an unforgettable night that puts the power in the hands of the patrons. From anonymous suggestions made by the audience, Kim and Pippa will lead patrons through a lively evening of banter and debate—no idea is off limits, no suggestions taboo or too dangerous—let your imaginations run wild! The bar will be open, and there will be guest appearances, and loads of surprises. PITCH—Bring your ideas—pitches are anonymous, so no judgement! BITCH—Kim and Pippa discuss the pitches, and debate whether they have potential as plays or not! DITCH—The power is in your hands—audience members vote on which pitches are ditched and which ones have promise! “It’s like the Dragon’s Den of Theatre…only without the money…and ideas are anonymous!”—Pippa Mackie

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Kim Senklip Harvey

Keep your eyes out for follow up Pitch, Bitch, or Ditch events in our 2019/20 season.

If you don’t already follow Kim Senklip Harvey’s blog, check it out here. Kim is heading to Victoria to take UVIC’s Masters of Creative Writing program this autumn, and we can hardly wait to see the fruits of her time there.


TESTOSTERONE

We had so much fun having Testosterone – the incredible collaboration between Kit Redstone and Rhum and Clay Theatre Company – in our York Theatre last October.

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Testy in Canada 🇨🇦

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What have they been up to?

Rhum and Clay recently premiered a new work, War of the Worlds, a piece inspired by Orson Wells famous broadcast. They will be taking this show to Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August.

Kit Redstone has been busy with his own projects, including a brand new collaboration with Vancouver’s own Pippa Mackie, The Fucking Garden – A wickedly dark and impishly mischievous reclamation of the Adam and Eve story. That is certainly a collaboration to keep your eyes on!

He too will be bringing a show, called Passengers, to Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.

Follow Rhum and Clay on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Follow Kit Redstone on Twitter, and Instagram.


A VANCOUVER GULDASTA

At the same time as we had Kamloopa in our Historic Theatre, and Testosterone in our York theatre, our Culture Lab was transformed into a Vancouver Special, as we were swept away by Paneet Singh‘s A Vancouver Guldasta – the story of a 1980’s Sikh family confronting the tumultuous events of the invasion of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, India.

Follow SACHA – South Asian Canadian Histories Association – on Instagram and Twitter to be the first to find out about any of their upcoming projects.


A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMAN EXTINCTION

Who could forget this face?!

Audiences fell in love with Stephanie Elgersma’ s Ommie the otter in Upintheair Theatre‘s dystopian environmental thriller, A Brief History of Human Extinction – a puppet and live-action smashup – created by Jordan Hall and Mind of a Snail Puppet Co.

What have they been up to?

Jordan Hall, the writer of A Brief History of Human Extinction, continues to work in support of environmental issues. Recently she was selected to be one of 50 international playwrights for Climate Change Theatre Action 2019 – “a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented biennially to coincide with the United Nations COP meetings.” Follow Climate Change Theatre Action on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date.

Meanwhile, Upintheair Theatre’s rEvolver Festival started THIS week (May 22- June 2, 2019)! We always look forward to having this fabulous festival take over our theatres, and this year’s festival is going to be incredible. Take a look here to find out more about the lineup, and follow Upintheair Theatre on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, for lots of fun content!

Mind of a Snail Puppet Co. joined us again in March, with Multiple Organism. Read below to find out more about what they are up to now.


THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND

We always love having VACT – Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre – with us, and last fall’s VACT show, The Ones We Leave Behind, by Loretta Seto, was such a beautiful look at the ways we isolate ourselves from those around us.

Agnes Tong and Alannah Ong in The Ones We Leave Behind. Photo by Ray Shum

What have they been up to?

We are thrilled to have VACT with us again in our 2019/20 season. This coming November, Tetsuro Shigematsu will bring us the premiere of his latest play, Kuroko, the story of a young Japanese recluse (a Hikikomori), who meets a mysterious stranger in virtual reality, and is faced with a challenge that may, or may not, draw her into the real world.

Follow Testsuro Shigematsu on Facebook and Instagram to see up to date updates on Kuroko.

Hopefully you got out to the Arts Club’s production of The Great Leap. If you did, you would have seen Agnes Tong, who played Abby in The Ones We Leave Behind, playing the character Connie. She was also in the Arts Clubs production of Shoplifters – what a busy performer!

Keep an eye on Loretta Seto‘s webpage to stay up to date with her latest projects.

Follow VACT on Facebook, and Twitter, and don’t forget to sign up for their newsletter!


THE BELIEVERS ARE BUT BROTHERS

We kicked off our Ceasefire Series – three shows that explored different aspects of war, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice of WWI – with The Believers are But Brothers, Javaad Alipoor‘s play about young men and the dark web.

What has he been up to?

After stirring up Vancouver audiences with his revealing interactive show, Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers are But Brothers was adapted for television by the BBC.

This summer Alipoor will be taking two shows to Edinburgh Fringe Festival: The Believers are But Brothers and Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. Follow Javaad Alipoor on Twitter, and check out his website here.


BACKBONE

Gravity and Other Myths took over the Vancouver Playhouse last October with their dazzling show Backbone.

What have they been up to?

Gravity and Other Myths have been (and continue to be) VERY busy touring Backbone,and A Simple Space, as well as a brand new show, that they premiered in Adelaide this past February – Out of Chaos.

Follow Gravity and Other Myths on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up to date…AND, for lots of mind-boggling photos and videos!


SMALLWAR

The second show in our Ceasefire Series was SKaGen Theatre‘s haunting marvel from Valentijn Dhaenen. SmallWar utilized verbatim exerts from soldiers diaries, brought to life by memorizing projections, sound, and performance, to give viewers a glimpse into the experience of war. We were honored to have SmallWar in our York Theatre during Remembrance Day, and everyone who had the opportunity to see it will likely not forget it anytime soon.

What have they been up to?

SKaGen has a long list of shows that will be playing in 2019 and 2020, including Valentijn Dhaenen’s UNSUNG, and TIL IT’S OVER – “a cross-disciplinary collaboration between SKaGeN and the American visual artist Richard Jackson on the themes of civil war, tenderness and revenge.”

Follow SKaGen on Facebook, and Instagram to see what they are up to next.


THREE WINTERS

Playwright, Amiel Gladstone revisits the site of his Grandfather’s internment

Amiel Gladstone premiered Three Winters with us in 2018 – our third Ceasefire Series show. An all female cast told the story of a daring escape attempt from POW camp Stalag Luft III, inspired by the real-life experiences of Gladstone’s grandfather.

What has he been up to?

In the 2019/20 Season Gladstone will be directing Tetsuro Shigematsu’s new play, Kuroko – talk about a dream team!

Currently, Amiel Gladstone is hard at work on the recently revived Magnetic North Theatre Festival, of which he is the 2019 Producer, alongside Amy Lynn Strilchuk. For more information, and for the 2019 Magnetic North Theatre Festival lineup check out their website here.


THIS DUET THAT WE’VE ALREADY DONE (SO MANY TIMES)

For five days in late November 2018, we were lucky enough to have the incredible Frédérick Gravel and Brianna Lombardo  in our Historic Theatre with This Duet That We’ve Already Done (so many times).

What have they been up to?

Since then Gravel has been hard at work in his exciting new role as the Artistic Director of Daniel Léveillé Danse. Even more excitingly, Gravel will be premiering a new work, a solo featuring himself, called Fear and Greed, June 1-2-4, 2019, at Festival TransAmériques (Montreal). Check out the trailer for Fear and Greed here:

Follow DLD – Daniel Léveillé Danse – on Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo, to keep up to date!


EAST VAN PANTO: WIZARD OF OZ

Last years East Van Panto, from Theatre Replacement, was a record-breaking hit!

What have they been up to?

Pippa Mackie as Pinocchio

The good news is that the team that brought East Van Panto: Wizard of Oz to life are teaming up again for East Van Panto: Pinocchio (Nov 20-Jan 5). Along with taking part in Climate Change Theatre Action 2019, and also having It’s a Wonderful Christmas-ish Holiday Miracle playing at the Arts Club in 2019, Marcus Youssef will, once again, take on the role of Panto playwright (busy playwright!), while Stephen Drover will return to the directors chair once again.

East Van Panto: Pinocchio will feature the amazing Pippa Mackie as Pinocchio, and is sure to be as wacky and wonderful as Vancouver audiences have come to expect.

We are doubly lucky this coming season because we will have Theatre Replacement twice! Along with the Panto, they will be bringing Maiko Yamamoto‘s story about mothers, sons, and playing Minecraft. MINE (Mar 18-22) will be “playing” (hehehe) during spring break, and is a great opportunity for parents to bring their video game obsessed children to the theatre!

Follow Theatre Replacement on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for fun updates on both shows!


LITTLE DICKENS

We were so excited to have Ronnie Burkett’s hit, Little Dickens, back in Vancouver this past December. Ronnie is a Canadian treasure, and The Cultch brings together some of his most devoted fans year after year!

What have they been up to?

Currently Ronnie Burkett is hard at work creating his latest show, Forget Me Not, which will play in Vancouver (at a secret location!) February 4-March 1, 2020, after premiering at Luminato this summer.

We highly recommend following Ronnie Burkett on Instagram for a behind the scenes looks at all things wild and wonderfully Ronnie!


DAKH DAUGHTERS

This past January we kicked off our Femme Series with the incredibly theatrical Ukrainian musical act, Dakh Daughters!

What have they been up to?

In April, Dakh Daughters Band released a new album, called Air. Listen to Air on Spotify here.

Follow Dakh Daughters on Facebook, and Instagram for all up to date information on this “freak cabaret.”


MRS KRISHNAN’S PARTY

For three glorious weeks, in January and February 2019, our entire building was filled with the incredible scent of delicious daal. Our Culture Lab was transformed into the back room of Mrs Krishnan’s dairy (convenience store), and one hundred people at a time were invited to the surprise party of the year – Mrs Krishnan’s Party. It is no exaggeration to say that The Cultch staff still misses the leftovers!

What have they been up to?

After leaving us in February, the cast and crew of Mrs Krishnan’s Party continued their tour; bringing joy, laughter, and daal to many!

Follow Indian Ink Theatre Company on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with their adventures.


POWER BALLAD

Power Ballad, Julia Croft and Nisha Madhan‘s feminist performance piece was an essential part of our Femme Series this year. We had so much fun, laughed so hard, and sung our hearts out! The Feminist Karaoke Party is something we will remember for years to come, and it looks like we aren’t the only ones –

What have they been up to?

After leaving The Cultch, Croft and Madhan premiered a new work,Working on my Night Moves, in New Zealand. They will be taking this new show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.

Follow Zanetti Productions on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and follow Julia Croft on Instagram to keep up to date with this feminist duo!


THIS IS THE POINT

Every year we partner with PuSh International Performing Arts Festival to present some incredible work. This past January we partnered with them to bring in the fabulous This is the Point – a play about Love, Sex, and Disability – from Toronto’s Ahuri Theatre.

What have they been up to?

After leaving The Cultch, in early February, Tony, Dan, and Liz continued their tour, visiting a total of nine Canadian cities. Follow Ahuri Theatre on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with their upcoming adventures!

We will be partnering with PuSh International Performing Arts Festival again this coming season, and co-presenting Quelemia Sparrow’s O’wet (Jan 23-Feb 1, 2020), as well as The Chop Theatre’s KISMET: things have changed (Feb 4-8, 2020).

We are looking forward to working with PuSh’s new Artistic Executive Director Franco Boni.

Follow PuSh International Performing Arts Festival on Facebook, Twitter, And Instagram, and be sure to sign up for their newsletter, to hear about all the exciting things to come for the 2020 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.


MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

In February Classic Chic Productions took over our Historic Theatre with an all-female cast Much Ado About Nothing. Audiences were treated to a performance of this classic from the Bard, unlike any they have seen before.

What have they been up to?

On Mother’s Day (May 12, 2019) a group of hilarious women took over Yuk Yuks Vancouver Comedy Club in support of Classic Chic, in an event called Chicks at the Mic!

Follow Classic Chic on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram , and join their newsletter list, to keep up to date with all their fun and fabulous feminist events and productions!


CHILDREN OF GOD

What an honour it was to have Urban Ink‘s Children of God Corey Payette‘s heartbreaking and restorative musical about residential schools – back in our York Theatre this February/March.

Photo by Emily Cooper Photography

What have they been up to?

After leaving The Cultch, Children of God toured BC, opening up dialogue about Canada’s residential school system.

We are so excited to have Corey Payette again with us next season. He, and our own Heather Redfern, are co-curating Raven Transforming Cabaret Festival – a brand new festival bringing together Indigenous, and non-Indigenous performers in a multitude of disciplines to all three Cultch stages in early October 2019. Learn more about the festival here.

Corey Payette has also been selected as one of 50 international playwrights to be part of Climate Change Theatre Action 2019.

Follow Urban Ink on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up to date with their latest and greatest.


HOT BROWN HONEY

What a way to kick off spring in Vancouver – Hot Brown Honey returned to us this past March to turn up the heat and bring the noise!

What have they been doing?

After another hit run at our York Theatre, the Honey’s took off to smash the patriarchy in New York City!

You may or may not be aware, but Hot Brown Honey has a male counterpart – Briefs! We are so excited to have Briefs – “a glittery bomb of circus, cabaret, and boy-lesque” – join us at the end of our 2019/20 season (April 19-May 3, 2020). Here are the Honeys and the Briefs together as one big happy family!

Hot Brown Honey is always travelling the world, smashing the patriarchy wherever they go. They are going to be part of the National Art Centre’s Indigenous Theatre‘s inaugural season, May 5-9, 2020.

If you don’t follow these “Fierce Mamas” on social media you are MISSING OUT! Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out what they are up to next!


MULTIPLE ORGANISM

What fun we had with Mind of a Snail Puppet Co. this past March! Our Cultchivating the Fringe winner, Multiple Organism, sold out show after show.

What have they been up to?

Mind of a Snail artists, Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel, don’t seem to ever sit still! Jessica Gabriel was recently part of the inaugural HUNCH Festival, and the two of them are gearing up for Fringe season once again, and heading to Montreal!

Don’t miss out, keep up to date with this daring duo by following them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Also, check out this amazing card they made us!


NEW CACKLE SISTERS: KITCHEN CHICKEN

New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken – a wild meal, prepared right before your eyes, by madcap company L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres , as they highlighted the songs of the famous DeZurik Sisters (also known as the Cackle Sisters) – enchanted audiences at the York this April.

What have they been up to?

Since leaving us, L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres has been touring around Canada with Kitchen Chicken. They will continue touring it, along with
Tomatoes, in the coming months.

Follow L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres on Facebook for all the madcap adventures of this daring theatrical musical troupe.


ACT OF FAITH

It was such a pleasure to have Realwheels Theatre in our Historic Theatre this April. The premiere of Janet Munsil‘s newly commissioned play, Act of Faith – inspired by the real-life experiences of a woman in the community (see below) – was a real conversation starter.

What have they been up to?

Since January this year, Realwheels Theatre have been hosting playwriting circles, facilitated by Kim Seary. Every two weeks, participants have been meeting to write, and support each other. On June 8, they will be hosting a cold reading of some of the work created during this circle. Check out the event here.

Follow Realwheels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to keep up to date with their latest events and productions.


NASSIM

What a blast it was having a different Vancouver performer take the stage in the incredible show that Vancouver Presents called a “love letter to the audience, to the performer and at its core, a love letter from Nassim to his mother.” NASSIM was a perfect way to wrap up our 2018/29 season!

What have they been up to?

After leaving The Cultch, Nassim Soleimanpour traveled with his self titled NASSIM to Carrefour international de théâtre de Québec. On May 22 it was announced that NASSIM won an 2019 Off Broadway Alliance Award for Best Unique Theatrical Experience.

Follow Nassim Soleimanpour Productions on Facebook, and Twitter to hear the latest news!


Whoa – what a season hey?! Can you believe the incredible people who come through The Cultch’s doors? There are so many incredible artists (not to mention our patrons and donors!) changing the world!

That’s a wrap! We look forward to seeing you next season. Subscriptions are already on sale – book yours today . We look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

It’s the York Theatre’s two-year anniversary! Share your York story!

YorkBlogThe two-year anniversary of the York Theatre is this Sunday, December 6! To celebrate we’re sending the call out to you – our friends and supporters – to submit your personal York story. Tell us about a gig you saw back when it was a concert venue, or a show you saw when it was known as the Little Theatre, or any other story –past or present – about the York. If you submit a story, you will be invited to an exclusive Cultch Rental’s Department and Heritage Vancouver Society event this February! Plus, submit your story by Dec 11 and you’ll be entered to win two tickets to the opening night of Leftovers at the York Theatre on Jan 26.

To submit your story please email marketing@thecultch.com with the subject line ‘York Memory’ or leave a comment below. Your personal story may be used in future promotional materials. Please be assured, that we would only list your first name and omit any identifying details. Do let us know if you don’t want yours included!

Photo scrapbook of our 40th season!

The Cultch closed its 40th season on May 31 and we decided it was the perfect time to do a little recap! This season was such an important one and it’s hard to believe all the major events that happened over the past year! We celebrated our 40th anniversary, opened the York Theatre, received a $2 million gift from West Coast Reduction, produced Jack and The Beanstalk: An East Van Panto with Theatre Replacement, organized our New Orleans and All That Jazz Gala, and so much more! Here’s our photo recap of the last year!

ThenAndNow

The Cultch then and now

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Friends, donors, subscribers, and staff members at our 40th anniversary photo shoot

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Left: Jennifer Spry and Chris Macdonald excited about the kickoff of the Vancouver Fringe Festival, our first year as a venue/Right: Robert Leveroos and Cindy Reid awarding Deanna Fleysher with the Cultchivating the Fringe Award for her show Butt Kapinski

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Heather Redfern, Executive Director of The Cultch, on the cover of The Georgia Straight for a feature story about the opening of the York Theatre!

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The York Theatre officially opened its doors on December 6! Here’s a beautiful shot taken of the venue before the grand opening!

_WCR

We received our largest donation in Cultch history, a $2 million gift, from our longest standing corporate partner, West Coast Reduction! Here’s a photo of West Coast Reduction Ltd.’s Barry Glotman, Gordon Diamond, and staff from the Grandview-Woodland community with The Cultch’s Executive Director, Heather Redfern at the York!

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The cast of An East Van Panto: Patti Allan, Maiko Bae Yamamato, Raugi Yu, Allan Zinyk, and Dawn Petten

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Allan Zinyk, star of last year’s Jack and the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto, and young guests

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The Cultch team taking a group shot with the cast of An East Van Panto

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Guests and friends dining on the Historic stage at The Cultch’s New Orleans and All That Jazz Gala

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Subscribers and audience members during our 14/15 Season Launch on March 17

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Robert Leveroos, Youth Program Manager, with The Cultch’s Youth Panel Members celebrating the end of the IGNITE! Youth Arts Performing Festival!

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Our lovely Cultch volunteers helping out with our subscription mailing this past March!

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The Cultch’s staff members celebrating the end of a successful season with some bubbly

We hope you enjoyed these photos, this is just a small example of all the events that took place this last season. None of this would have been possible without your help, and we want to thank you – our friends, donors, and subscribers – for your support. We feel really lucky to have such a strong community behind us and we can’t wait to see you next year to share other great memories!

The York: The Little Theatre that Could

Left, November 1913, "Alcazar Theatre", only known image of the original facade; Middle, 1940s streamlined update, renamed "York Theatre""; Right, 2008 "Raja Theatre" (closed). Photo credits: (L) The Daily News Advertiser, 1913; (M) Vancouver Archives; (L) Heritage Vancouver

Vancouver has seen its fair (ok, more than fair) share of historical buildings being razed to the ground recently and an increasing loss of cultural spaces: The Pantages Theatre built in 1907, torn down in April of last year; The Ridge Theatre saw its final days last month and it’s not looking good for The Waldorf. One such building that was scheduled for the chopping block was the York Theatre; aka Alcazar Theatre, aka The Palace, aka The Little Theatre, aka the New York Theatre, aka the Raja. This place has had more names than Joan Rivers has had face-lifts.

1913 ; Early logo from the Alcazar Theatre

Built in 1913 on Commercial Drive at the corner of East Georgia Street by Vancouver architect John McCarter, the York is one of the oldest theatres in Vancouver that is still kicking. It is only one of a few purpose-built theatres in Vancouver. It’s purpose? Theatre. It has a fly tower (a space where devices for lifting and lowering elements such as scenery, curtains, people even – y’know, like in Peter Pan) and a proscenium stage.

Here’s a quick timeline of The York’s history:

  • 1913- Alcazar Theatre opens it doors, hosting plays and movies before closing down after two years of operations.
  • 1915- The Palace Theatre opens and operates as a movie theatre until 1923.
  • 1923 – The Vancouver Little Theatre Association (VLTA) purchases the space and renames it The Little Theatre.
  • 1940 – After investing a considerable amount in renovations, including a new entrance façade and marquee as well as updates to the stage and lighting; the VLTA renames the theatre The York.
  • 1978 – After more than 50 years as the home to the VTLA and due to the cost of upkeep for the aging theatre, VTLA opts to sell The York. The new owners converts it to a movie theatre and it became the home of Bollywood films.
  • 1981 – The owners decided to demolish the theatre and this is when the ‘Save the York Theatre Society’ was born. Due to community support, the York narrowly escapes the death knell, is re-purposed as a music venue, and becomes the New York Theatre.

The York Theatre before it's $14.8 Million renovation

Let’s jump to 1996. The New York was now the Raja Theatre and was once again featured Bollywood cinema. Only a few short years later, the Raja Theatre was no more. After that, various initiatives were put forth to save the York to no avail, until a 2008 City of Vancouver administrative report recommending, “that council support the ongoing efforts to retain the York Theatre”, paving the way for the Wall Financial Corporation and The Cultch to form a partnership to purchase and restore the York Theatre once and for all. This is very much a restoration and upgrade as most of the original theatre built in 1913 will remain intact

Construction work on The York theatre

As we enter 2013, one hundred years after it’s initial construction, the York is finally getting some TLC and is in the midst of a full-on makeover. This is very much a restoration and upgrade as most of the original theatre will remain intact and the exterior will reclaim its Art Deco design from the 1940s. The renovations, by Henriquez Partners Architects, will be up to the LEED Gold Standard, which takes into account sustainability, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design. A major new feature will be a two-story glass lobby to showcase the mosaic finishes inside the building.

This resilient theatre that found a place in a community’s hearts, and managed to survive against all odds, is expected to re-open in the fall and will be managed by The Cultch as a rental venue for performances and special events.

The York’s restoration, when combined with The Cultch Historic Theatre, the Vancity Culture Lab, and the clubs, restaurants and other amenities on Commercial Drive, will solidify Grandview/Strathcona as a major cultural district in East Vancouver, while revitalizing the Drive between Venables and Hastings Street. Stay tuned for more on the progress of the renovations and to find out what you really want to know – when’s the Grand opening party?

Back to where it all began with Cultch founder Chris Wootten

Graview United Church

Grandview United Church in 1973, before becoming 'The Cultch'. Photo by Walter Edwin Frost.

The Cultch recently celebrated its 38th anniversary! On October 15th, 1973, we opened our doors for the first time. The Cultch’s Historic Theatre is often considered one of the most sacred performance venues in Vancouver. With incredible sight lines and a cozy, intimate vibe, seeing a performance in the Historic Theatre is a true delight. But those aren’t the only reasons why the Historic Theatre is such an incredible venue. It’s the ghosts of productions past that still haunt The Cultch walls – not to mention everything that happened in the building before The Cultch moved in – that infuse life into the performances and make this theatre something special.

We were lucky to catch up with Chris Wootten, The Cultch’s founding director, and discovered a bit more about the history of The Cultch and how it came to be the theatre we know and love today.

Founded in 1973, The Cultch as a long history of presenting the Vancouver community with exciting contemporary music, theatre and dance. Chris, can you talk a bit about your history and involvement with The Cultch?

I first saw The Cultch in 1970. While I’m from Vancouver, my wife and I had been living and working in New York. The old Grandview United Church was being used by the Inner City Services Project as an office/meeting space for activist groups like the Vancouver Free University, Vancouver Welfare Rights, Urban Design Services, etc. It was full of energy, and felt wonderful. It reminded me of spaces in New York, and I immediately thought it would also make a brilliant performance space.

Two years later, when I was a Project Officer at Opportunities for Youth, a co-worker, Darlene Marzari, (who would later become B.C. Minister of Culture) told me Inner City was folding and I should try to turn it into a theatre. I went to the United Church, and as it happens, the person in charge had taught my wife philosophy in high school. He gave me a one year option at no cost to see if I could put something together. I got matching grants from the City & Province totaling $25,000 and a $50,000 grant from the federal Local Initiatives Program, and we managed to open October 15, 1973. A few years later, we got the mayor, Art Phillips, to buy the property from the church, and we became a part of the City’s fabric.

What was the neighbourhood of Commercial Drive like when The Cultch opened, and why was it chosen as the location for a new performance venue?

Commercial Drive at Grandview, 1979.

The immediate 2 – 3 block neighbourhood, except for The Cultch, is virtually unchanged. The lane is worse, but it’s remarkable how stable the neighbourhood has been. Commercial Drive is a different story. Then, it was mostly Italian shops with a few restaurants. The Britannia Centre had just opened and it was the big new force in the neighbourhood.

I can’t say there was a lot of neighbourhood support for us initially. We were either tolerated or deemed something that might be good for their children. We worked very hard to fit in, and we had the support of key people like Michael Clague (then at the Britannia Centre) and Darlene Marzari. We employed Susan Mendelson, a UBC graduate in social work, to develop community programs, as well as House Manage.

We didn’t choose the neighbourhood, we chose the building, and we made it work as well as we could in the neighbourhood, while attracting an audience that was largely from the west side, particularly Kitsilano.

How do you think The Cultch’s East Vancouver location adds to the significance of the space?

In all honesty, the location was an obstacle when we began. We were not initially part of the community and our natural audience was across town. It meant we had to be particularly respectful to the Grandview Woodlands community. For our survival, we needed to be populist in our approach. We also needed to be very aggressive to attract audiences over from the west side. This gave us a special quality, which may have been the real key to our success. Within a year of opening, we were both fully booked year round, and selling out often.

What about The Cultch’s Historic Theatre do you feel is special or unique in comparison with other performance venues in Vancouver?

The balcony railing. The audience wrapping around the performers.

In 2009, The Cultch facilities underwent major renovations. How do you feel these changes impacted the audience’s experience at The Cultch?

The Cultch today!

The first thing I noticed was the quality of the air! Clean fresh air. And the sound. Silence. I think by and large it feels just as it did, except it’s much better. I only regret the loss of seating capacity. We used to break all the rules and squeeze in up to 406. On such occasions, no one was comfortable but everyone was excited to be there. The lobby bars of course are now wonderful. I particularly like that my office is now a bar.

The Cultch’s Historic Theatre is known as one of Vancouver’s most intimate performance spaces with Max Wyman quoted as saying it has the “look and feel of a miniature European Opera House.” What are some of your favourite aspects of the Historic Theatre?

Max Wyman described it as “a miniature European opera house” back in 1973, and we used that quote for years. That’s it, and that’s what I love about the space. I also love how flexible it is. It works for theatre, as well as chamber music or jazz. It’s the intimacy! Also, the space is chameleon- like. Every Christmas, we took out all the seats and risers and ran the Circle Craft Christmas Market. It became a bazaar. We also ran it cabaret style as a night club on a few occasions, with drinks at tables on the floor. It is also a rooted part of our history. It has been a public space since 1909 and it has been preserved.

I’m sure you’ve seen countless shows at The Cultch over the years. Are there any in particular that stand out for you?

It’s a cliché to say there are so many, but if I had to pick one, it would be Billy Bishop Goes To War. We had developed a reputation for bringing in hot shows from other parts of the country, like Richard Monette starring in Hosanna, and by the late 1970’s, we wanted to produce a show that we could send out. Through great good luck, we co-produced BBGTW with our resident company, Tamahnous Theatre, and ending up producing it not only across the country but also on Broadway, in the West End and at leading international festivals. The Vancouver East Cultural Centre outselling the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Edinburgh Festival! Who would have thought?