Has the renovation of the York Theatre gone far enough?

York Theatre, Vancouver, Cultch, Gregory Henriquez, Tom Durrie

AT 639 Commercial Drive, the York Theatre has had a major reno

The renovation of the York Theatre took a huge amount of work and dedication from arts activist Tom Durrie, former city councillor Jim Green, and the Cultch’s executive director Heather Redfern—not to mention crucial support from the City of Vancouver and the Wall Financial Corporation. All of these individuals and institutions deserve enormous credit. But how well does the theatre actually work?

It’s got problems. The lobby is clad in pretty glass tiles from Interstyle, but the space is so cramped—long and narrow, like a bowling lane—that it can only hold about a third of the audience capacity comfortably. And it doesn’t function well. To get to your pre-ordered drinks at intermission, you have to fight your way past the bar line-up. And there’s no room in the theatre for a reception. Architect Gregory Henriquez didn’t have a lot of space to work with: the old version of the York didn’t have a lobby and he was limited by the lot size. That’s context. Fair enough. But we’re still left with a theatre with an inadequate gathering place.

The house is also disappointing. It’s minimally decked out with red-and-black seats and a utilitarian grey floor. And quite a number of those seats are compromised. The York’s deep balcony, which has always overhung the back rows on the main floor, is still in place, interfering with sight lines and probably acoustics. Sight lines in the back couple of rows of the balcony aren’t great, either. From downstairs the stage is high, so the best seats are in the dress circle, the area front and centre in the balcony.

Getting into the balcony is a bit of a trick, though: only one small door allows access. (There are two exits.)

It’s a relatively big house, too, with a capacity of 370 seats, compared to 240 for most events at the Cultch’s Historic Theatre, so it’s going to be interesting to see who rents it.

Maybe we’ve been spoiled with the excellent renovations of the Stanley and of the Cultch’s Historic Theatre, both of which were carried out by Proscenium Architecture and Interiors Inc., but this one disappoints. Here’s hoping that, somehow or other, use will loosen it up.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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