Artistic Growth

The Victoria Theatre Association brings more programs to the community with the addition of the PNC Arts Annex

Corinne Minard

A couple of years ago, the Victoria Theatre Association—the nonprofit arts organization that operates and maintains the Schuster Center, Victoria Theatre and Metropolitan Arts Center—realized it was running out of room.

“It was really a convergence of a lot of challenges. Our spaces were being used a lot so that meant that they weren’t available many of the times that people were interested in them. Our programming and engagement department began to tap out. We just weren’t able to do more because of the space,” says Gary Minyard, vice president of education and engagement.

As the organization continued to discuss possible ways to expand, then president and CEO Ken Neufeld saw there was empty space literally across the street from the Schuster Center.

“It just happened that the ceilings were at about 22 feet and that’s great when you start thinking about a small intimate theater space. It’s a really good height for studio space for classes and what not. That’s where it all began,” says Minyard.

Set to open the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 2, the Victoria Theatre Association’s PNC Arts Annex is the culmination of years of planning and listening to the community. With the annex, the Victoria Theatre Association hopes to both expand its current programming as well as add new shows and classes that it hasn’t been able to offer before.

Industrial Chic
According to Minyard, the annex is designed to be a welcoming, intimate space. The annex’s lobby features a large art installation, as well as a view of the space’s 40-foot-by-90-foot studio through large glass garage doors.

“These garage doors can go up and down. We’re able to create a really communal space between the gallery and the studio,” says Minyard. He expects the space to be used for meetings, small performances and even podcasts, but says the studio is ideal for dancers thanks to its parquet-sprung floors.

The main theater is not visible from the entrance, but Minyard says it has the most surprises. “The risers can actually move back into the wall and the floor can be one level, so we can do cabarets in there,” he says. “It’s all one sprung floor … so doing dancing in there or any kind of physical work is much easier on the performers and their legs, as any dancer or movement specialist would tell you.”

Behind the scenes, the annex has two dressing rooms, a warming kitchen, a production office and a freight elevator so that sets don’t have to be carried through the front doors.

When the annex officially opens, Minyard expects theatergoers to be impressed with the transformation.

“The inside is really industrial chic,” he says. “I think it’s just going to be a really nice fresh exciting space for people.”

The Right Size
With the opening of the PNC Arts Annex, the Victoria Theatre Association is looking to expand programming like its school-age Discovery Series. Minyard says he has already booked several of these educational performances in the theater, including several shows of The Young King by Slingsby Theatre Company from Australia in May.

The theater company is known for its interactive shows and Minyard has been trying to get it to visit for several years. The PNC Arts Annex, which has a maximum capacity of 199, helped make that happen. “It’s an incredibly interactive theater experience where they don’t want the audience to be bigger than 199,” he says.

Before the Arts Annex, the Victoria Theatre Association’s smallest theater was 1,150 square feet and could feel empty with a small audience. “Smaller shows, whether they’re independent musicians that are touring through or smaller plays, even locally written and produced shows, it’s very challenging when you are in a theater and you may only attract 200 people,” Minyard says. “We’re hoping to create really intimate experiences for our community here and whether that’s with nationally known artists or locally known we’re just excited about those possibilities.”

For the Community
To celebrate the opening of the PNC Arts Annex, the Victoria Theatre Association is planning a weekend full of free events for the community. An official schedule was not available when the magazine went to print, but the weekend will include classes for pre-professional college students, educational workshops for classes and homeschoolers, performance skills-based classes for the general public ages 5-15, steel drumming workshop for girl scouts, a cabaret, late-night adult shows that start at 10:30 p.m., a pre-show party on Sunday before the Straight No Chaser show at Schuster Center, a staged reading of a new play and more.

While Minyard and the Victoria Theatre Association have many plans for the Arts Annex, they are eager to hear from the community about how they would like to use the space.

“I want people out there to know that the PNC Arts Annex has been really built for everyone. If you have an idea about how you would like to use it we want to hear about it. They can reach out to me directly or they can email and it will get to me,” he says. “There could be somebody who is creating a quilting collective that needs a space or someone writing a new puppet show or maybe someone is thinking of playing live for the first time in front of an audience and they would love a space to do that in. We want to hear from them and we want to try to make that work.”