Memorial Hall comes with learning curve, major opportunities - June 8, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The newly-renovated Blyth Memorial Community Hall went through its first major test on the weekend when it played host to the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story.
With spirits high and compliments abounding after the hall’s grand re-opening on May 19, it’s now up to those at the Blyth Festival, the hall’s primary tenant, to work with the hall on a day-to-day basis. Artistic Director Gil Garratt and General Manager Rachael King say that the improvements to the hall have opened up many creative doors for the Festival.
Over $4 million has been injected into the hall, improving nearly every aspect of the building while still preserving its heritage feel of a building nearly 100 years old. The lower hall and kitchen have been completely redesigned, as has the main upper hall.
As far as improvements that have Garratt and King excited, however, they go beyond what can be seen with the naked eye.
“The really thrilling part for me is actually stuff that the public will never see,” Garratt said, adding that changes to lighting and sound systems and ease-of-use improvements will completely redefine how Festival crews and actors ply their trade on the Memorial Hall stage.
The quality of the lighting and sound and productions the Festival is able to produce going forward, Garratt said, has truly changed what the Festival is capable of.
King agrees, saying that beyond what she saw with her own eyes at the hall’s grand re-opening, it was the sound system that truly served as a metre stick for how much has changed in the building.
“The first time I heard the sound system, it made me want to cry,” King said.
King, who has been a stage manager over the years, says that side of her is very excited about what’s possible at Memorial Hall now. As a general manager, however, she’s just happy thinking of all of the technological advances now possible at the building.
Garratt said that artists like playwrights and directors used to have to bring in talented sound and lighting professionals and ask them to try and achieve their vision, whereas now the sky is the limit.
“We used to talk about ‘how’ we could do something and now we walk into the hall and ask, ‘what do you want to do?’”
Garratt pointed to the advanced projections being used this season in Mr. New Year’s Eve: A Night with Guy Lombardo, thanks to Beth Kates, a leader in the field. Kates also worked on Seeds and The Last Donnelly Standing and Garratt says that with the advancements made at the hall, professionals like Kates will find the possibilities endless now, rather than having to make do with outdated technology.
Garratt again used the sound system as an example, saying that not only does it present pristine, crystal clear sound, but that it opens the door to using the sound as an active element in the storytelling. For example, Garratt said, the new sound system can create the effect of a car driving past on the main street, with the speakers making it sound as if the car is running from one side of the theatre to the other. With capabilities like that, he said, upgraded technology like sound and lighting has the chance to become a major player in a production, rather than a basic necessity of theatre.
Going forward, Garratt and King say that there is a big learning curve involved with the new technology at the hall that has involved multiple all-day training sessions with members of this season’s crew.
The Festival season officially opens on Friday, June 30 with the world premiere of Mr. New Year’s Eve: A Night with Guy Lombardo.