A win for Kirsten Schrader is a win for the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre, its staff, and also a win for the community, Schrader said on Friday.
Schrader, who is the Arts and Culture manager for the CVRD won the BC Touring Council’s Presenter of the Year award on April 7 at Pacific Contact, a professional development session and showcase in Burnaby.
The event was the BC Touring Council’s annual awards night celebrating the best of the best in the exciting world of touring entertainment.
The award was the first in the Cowichan theatre’s history.
“It’s kind of special, the timing of it,” she said, noting the 40th anniversary of the theatre’s first show is coming up in the fall. “I think it’s great.”
The Presenter of the Year award is a provincial accolade given to the theatre manager/presenter that “demonstrates a commitment to artistic and managerial excellence, demonstrates community involvement, the highest degree of professionalism in presenting, and contributes to the awareness and development of the arts,” and Schrader emerged at the top of a considerable list.
The Cowichan Performing Arts Centre is both a “roadhouse” theatre, meaning touring acts can rent it out and use the space to have their own shows, and a “presenting” theatre, meaning Schrader curates a selection of performers and shows each season with her CVRD budget that she believes will enhance the community’s culture scene.
The award is meant to applaud the latter.
“It’s based on the artistic choices that I’ve been making and the benefit for the community,” she explained. “At our conferences and professional development seminars we talk about the kinds of shows we bring that might engage the community on important social issues. There’s things you can do to use the arts as a vehicle to engage conversation.”
One such event is the Cowichan Women Against Violence annual fundraising show, I am Woman Hear me Laff, that brings to light the mistreatment of women.
Another initiative is one in which young ballet dancers are able to take the stage with the professionals.
“We want to build the cultural life of our community,” Schrader explained. “Culture is one of the strong deciding factors for people that want to move here. A strong cultural life is very important to the livability of a community.”
Show selection aside, Schrader said it’s quite simply years and years of hard work that has the theatre becoming one of the province’s top venues, despite being in a small market.
“I don’t think we would be considered for this award if we hadn’t been working so hard for many many years now to really bring the theatre’s reputation up out of basic obscurity to where it is now,” she admitted. “This is not in a prime market for professional artists. It takes hustle. Trying to get acts over to the Island is a negotiation, if they’ll even talk to us. It takes all of us here to do that work.”
She said compliments from the likes of Jann Arden, Ziggy Marley, the CBC Radio’s This is That crew and other top acts help bolster the team’s reputation.
“We get those comments all the time and those filter out to the community and it goes beyond that,” she said. “That takes years to build that up.”
And everyone from all the administrative staff, to the ticket centre staff, the ushers, the janitors and all the cleaning staff, “it’s everything for years that goes into building this,” she said.
So, while the name on the trophy is hers, it’s the crew alongside her every day that helped earned it.
“I get told our staff is the best to work with. The people here don’t get the recognition they deserve for the hard work they put in,” Schrader noted. “I still strongly believe that it’s all of our work together that’s really allowed us to rise above what people assume this town is going to have for a theatre. We have to overcome the preconceived idea that this is a small theatre. We’ve all worked really hard on that and I hope this award helps it recognized that there are theatres out there that are worth doing business with. It helps us.”
The goal, she said, is to continue to elevate the theatre’s reputation “so that when I do try to go after a bigger show, they recognize that’s the place to be.
“It’s a great asset in this community,” she said. “I really want people to realize what they’ve got here.”