British Columbia·Still Standing

After 58 years in Vancouver, the show must go on at Metro Theatre

Marpole was a busy neighbourhood with a lively entertainment district when Metro Theatre was founded in the south Vancouver neighbourhood 58 years ago. Today, it's harder to fill the seats.

Community theatre is a creative outlet for young actors and retired enthusiasts alike

Les Erskine, general manager and technical manager for Metro Theatre, raises the curtain with one of the oldest counterweight fly systems in North America at the South Vancouver landmark. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Still Standing is a series about the small businesses in the Lower Mainland that have managed to stay open despite the challenges. Listen every second Tuesday on CBC Radio's The Early Edition.

When Alison Schamberger first joined Metro Theatre in the 1960s, Marpole was a busy neighbourhood with a lively entertainment district. Now, the show still goes on, but the audiences are quieter.

"I used to say to people, when I was directing them in to Metro 'It's between the Fraser Arms and the Wild Coyote," she says. "But none of these business are around any more."

Schamberger says that with 80 theatres in the Lower Mainland spanning an area between White Rock, Langley and West Vancouver, audiences are likely to pick a play closer to home, if they go to live shows at all.

Alison Schamberger is the president of the board of directors of Vancouver's Metro Theatre. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Attracting new audiences is the theatre's biggest challenge. The not-for-profit theatre company largely relies on ticket sales. But outside of popular shows like the annual Christmas pantomime, or a recent production of Fawlty Towers, audiences are down.

"It's hard on the actors. Especially if you're doing a comedy," Schamberger says "We always run on the premise of 'The show must go on!' But there's a thing as magical as the interaction between actor and audience, particularly in comedy."

All of the actors and most of the production staff are volunteers.

Schamberger, centre, in a publicity photo from an early Metro Theatre production. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Les Erskin, technical director and general manager of Metro Theatre, donates his time because he finds it a rewarding creative outlet.

"This was supposed to be semi-retirement for me," he says. "I thought I'd give back a little bit, and here I am."

Erskin worked for years in television production — including The Beachcombers in the 1970s.

"You'll never find me on stage. I'm not an actor at all, but I'll happily work backstage," he says, while he puts the final touches in the set of the theatre's current production: The Gazebo, a 1950s murder-comedy.

Metro Theatre is located at 1370 SW Marine Dr. in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Jon Morris, who's producing the show, says live theatre offers something you can't find on a screen.

"Some think of it as a digital detox, 'I've had enough of my phone, I've had enough of the TV,' " he says. "It's just a matter of sometimes reminding them that [theatre] is fun."

With files from The Early Edition


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