05/23/2013 08:12 EDT | Updated 05/19/2014 11:59 EDT

The Centre For Performing Arts Will Not Be Missed, Theatre Critic Says

While some see the pending sale of The Centre for Performing Arts as a loss for Vancouver's arts scene, UBC theatre professor and theatre critic Jerry Wasserman says the theatre never lived up to its lofty expectations.

"I don't think it leaves much of a legacy at all. This was a white elephant right from the beginning," said Wasserman in an interview with CBC Radio's Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.

Over the last few months, upcoming events scheduled to be held at the theatre have been cancelled and several media outlets including the CBC have reported a forthcoming sale to Westside Church.

The theatre has long advertised itself as a destination for touring Broadway musical shows, but Wasserman says theatre entrepreneur Garth Drabinsky and his company, Live Entertainment of Canada Inc., failed to establish the mega-musical as a viable business model in the mid-1990s.

Drabinsky built what was initially called "The Ford Theatre" at a cost of $27 million. It opened in 1995, but closed three years later due to the company's financial woes.

In 2001, Four Brothers Entertainment, a Colorado-based company, bought the building for $7.8 million — a fraction of the initial cost.

Four Brothers Entertainment is currently not speaking to the media, but at the time of the 2001 sale, Dennis Law, part-owner of the company, still had high expectations for the Vancouver theatre.

"This theatre is probably the most incredible Broadway-suitable theatre, techno-spectacle theatre in all of North America," Law told CBC News in 2001.

"Maybe we can call it 'The Centre.’ Sort of like the centre of the universe."

Wasserman says Law's astronomical expectations were never realistic in the first place and the effort to meet those expectations never materialized.

"There really never was much of an attempt to make it a venue that was going to run shows three weeks out of every four, the way a venue that size has to run to be economically viable," he said.

"Vancouver is not New York, it's not Toronto, it's not Los Angeles, it's not Chicago. Those are the kinds of cities that can accommodate more than one or two 2,000-seat theatres."

Reaction in the arts community

Wasserman says some members of the arts community may be overacting to the theatre’s rumoured sale because the news follows closely after the closure of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company in March 2012.

"Those are two very different stories. The Playhouse was a resident theatre company that was in that theatre for 50 years and its failure is a significant failure that speaks to the cultural life of Vancouver," he said.

"The Centre was a roadhouse that's basically been empty since a few years after it opened. I don't think its demise as a cultural space has the same kind of significance."

Wasserman says closing The Centre illustrates the fact that Vancouver is a mid-sized city that needs more mid-sized theatre venues.

"(Vancouver) needs more spaces like the new York Theatre that's opening as part of The Cultch down on the Eastside that seats 350 people. That place is going to be full every single night."

Goh Ballet says The Centre will be missed

Meanwhile, Vancouver’s Goh Ballet Academy could be looking for a new stage for its production of the Nutcracker this Christmas.

The company has been hosting its performance of "The Nutcracker" at the theatre since 2009, but director Chan Hon Goh says the production was recently cancelled because of the pending sale.

Goh,a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, hopes the theatre’s owners agree to continue hosting the performance because she says it's the ideal stage for the show.

"The Queen Elizabeth is quite big, it's almost 3,000 seats, and then next to it is the Vancouver Playhouse which is 600. There is no other venue like The Centre," Goh told CBC News.

"It may not be perfect, but it certainly was able to serve as a venue for a lot of local organizations like the Goh Ballet."

The Vancouver International Film Festival has also been forced to cancel a 16-day booking for its 2013 event because of the pending sale.

The Early Edition, hosted by Rick Cluff, is on the air every weekday morning from 5:30 a.m. to 8:37 a.m. on CBC Radio One. 88.1 FM / 690 AM.

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