Currently, Isabelle Reader Theatre is the only playhouse on the West Shore.
It was built in 1977 by Langford taxpayers. It’s located in Spencer middle school and is being run by the Sooke School District.
For the past 22-years Roger Traviss has been the technical director and has provided the technical support for all community and school groups using the space. Whenever anyone was in the theatre, Traviss was there too.
On July 18, the technical director position was terminated by the school district.
SD 62 also has a theatre at Edward Milne community school in Sooke, but that one doesn’t have a technical director.
“I think it’s the end of the Isabelle Reader Theatre,” said Traviss, shocked to hear his position was eliminated.
The theatre will continue to operate as usual with school and community groups, but without a hired technician.
The theatre shows its age. The lights are run on an Apple computer that’s at least two decades old, and the dimmers in the theatre are obsolete which means replacement parts are not available.
Over the years, Traviss has put a lot of his own equipment into the theatre. He is the only person who operated the lights and sound system.
“If I would have stayed here and retired I would have donated the equipment. But under the circumstances, I don’t think I will do that,” Traviss said, explaining he will be taking his amp, speakers and equalizer.
While Traviss will no longer be working at Isabelle Reader Theatre he still belongs to Local 168, a theatre union, and works on local productions such as the Rock the Shores, held July 13 at West Shore Parks and Recreation.
The school district can’t comment on personnel issues, but superintendent Jim Cambridge did say it is not common for school theatres to offer technical support.
When the new high school is built at Royal Bay in Colwood, a planned theatre will become the third in the school district.
Over the past few years, there was talk about the school district partnering with Colwood’s proposed Emily Carr WestShore Performing Arts and Education Centre.
In a recent meeting between the City of Colwood and SD 62, a decision was reached that the school and the performing centre would both have theaters independent of each other.
Apparently for union reasons, a school theatre cannot have a gift shop run by volunteers and can’t sell alcohol or naming rights – revenue options a community theatre might want.
The decision to build separate facilities allows the high school theatre, which will be built at least two years before the art centre, to go ahead without having to consider the requirements of a community theatre.
“This frees up the school to move ahead and do its own work,” said Coun. Judith Cullington.
The idea is for the Emily Carr centre to be used solely by community groups while the high school theatre will be used for all school classes and performances with the possibility of being rented out to community groups as well.
The extra theatres will help ease the space crunch currently affecting the West Shore theatre community.
Some groups renting space at the Isabelle Reader theatre have expressed frustration with not being allowed in the theatre during school hours to set up for performances and have had difficulty booking time because the theatre is being used by school groups.
The Isabelle Reader theatre has 302 seats and the proposed theatre for the Royal Bay high school will have roughly the same.
The theatre for the Emily Carr WestShore Performing Arts and Education Centre is still in the pre-design stage and the size and number of seats has yet to be determined.