Isabelle Reader Theatre has been a community hub since 1977, but the busy facility is showing its age.
During school hours the theatre is used by Spencer middle school, for its drama and dance programs.
Outside of school hours the theatre is open for public rentals. Users include drama groups, theatre companies, dance studios, public meetings and church services.
“For community usage it’s used in excess of 250 times a year at least,” said Roger Traviss, manager and technical director of the theatre for 22 years.
During his tenure, Traviss is almost always able to accommodate drama and dance groups and has only double booked the theatre once.
“The theatre is that busy. There is a pecking order and it’s first come first serve,” said Traviss who operates the lights and sound board for user groups. “If you want a rehearsal it can be bumped by a rental. I just accommodate them elsewhere (in the school).”
Funded for construction by Langford taxpayers nearly 35 years ago and operated by the Sooke School District, Travis said the beloved and well-used theatre is “falling apart.”
One his main concerns is the technical equipment. The computer he uses for lights and sound dates back to 1983 and isn’t compatible with modern lights such as LED or non-stationary lighting.
“I run the lights with an Apple 11e computer,” Traviss said. “The dimmers are analog and we can’t buy replacement parts (because they are so old). We need more dimmers, we don’t have enough for a theatre this size.”
Aesthetically the theatre also needs some upkeep, including its 302 seats. “Most of the seats were installed in 1977 and they have reached the end of their shelf life,” Travis said.
About 15 years ago Traviss said the school board looked into upgrading the theatre and equipping it with a private entrance and washrooms apart from Spencer middle school. Due to a lack of funds the upgrade project never got out of the planning stage.
“If people want to use the theatre for a show, they can’t come set up in the morning (because the school is using it),” Traviss remarked.
Another theatre has been proposed to be built in Colwood at the Royal Bay site. The proposal is to build a 1,000 seat theater as well as a smaller 100 seat informal theatre.
If those theatres are built Traviss said he doesn’t think that will affect the user group of the small Langford theatre.
“People who use this theatre won’t rent the 1,000 seat theatre due to the cost and the size. The 100-seat theatre will be too small,” Travis said.
Four Seasons Musical Theatre use the theatre throughout the year. It is the resident company and rents space in the theatre to store costumes. Terry Rowsell, FSMT president, says he needs to be with a SD 62 employee to enter the builiding.
“I have a key to the theatre, but I don’t have a key to get into the school to get to the theatre,” Rowsell said explaining a separate entrance to the theatre would help his production group. “I don’t want to depend on school district staff to use the theatre.”
Although Rowsell said there have been some challenges booking the stage time his group would like, he enjoys using the theatre.
“For all its plus and minuses we have a good theatre, any bigger would be too big,” Rowsell said. “Langford has a perfectly good theatre and they just need some input and to put some money into it. Otherwise people will be going to Colwood.”
Even with the theatre’s age showing, Traviss is proud of the theatre and says it holds an importance place in the community.
“There have been lots of kids who have grown up on this stage,” Traviss said. “Everywhere in the theatre the acoustics are good. There really aren’t any bad seats in the house.”