LARGEST OUTDOOR THEATRE GETS ADDITION
New two-storey building will more than double size of annual Passion Play venue
For the first time in its 27-year history, the Badlands Passion Play is cancelled this summer — a cancellation caused by COVID-19 restrictions. But that hasn’t led to easing up work on building a 5,000-square-foot addition to the infrastructure that makes up Canada’s largest outdoor stage, with seating for 2,500 patrons.
Vance Neudorf, executive director of the Canadian Badlands Passion Play, is managing crews of trades and volunteers to ensure the new Badlands Arts Centre will by ready to welcome guests by the end of the year.
He joined the not-for-profit 12 years ago, after planting trees in British Columbia, working with modular construction in Alberta, writing a couple of novels while becoming a competent cook, and acting — along with teaching — in the fine-arts department of Prairie College in Three Hills.
Neudorf lives in Three Hills and makes a 40-minute journey to Drumheller every day, driven by his enthusiasm for the project that he believes will make it an amazing facility to complement the current production centre, which was built in 2001.
Thanks to a federal government grant — one of only four from Western Diversification in 2019 — and an additional grant by the provincial government, the society took the gamble to raise the remaining $181,000 necessary for the project.
It’s a tough task in the present economic climate, but the board has faith in its keen supporters and new ones who will no doubt be coming forward.
Costs have been kept remarkably low thanks to Neudorf and his team, acting as general contractor, and thanks to so many people from Drumheller and area pitching in and sharing their talents.
Ed Palm has been key. An engineer who has a flair for design, he was not only responsible for creating the new space, but his relationship with the project goes back to the time he and a friend discovered the property it sits on. The story goes that while out walking in the area and a good distance away, Palm said, “Can you hear me?” His friend responded, “Perfectly.” And it was decided the land was perfect for an outdoor theatre. It was purchased from the owner, who had a small dinosaur attraction on it, and Palm became a founding member along with starring as John the Baptist in the area’s first production of the Passion Play.
Palm’s equally enthusiastic wife died earlier this year, so Neudorf — using his Bobcat skills — dug up a Manchurian elm and planted it right onto the stage in her memory.
The new two-storey building is adjacent to the current 3,000 square feet of production space. The ground floor has been retrofitted to accommodate a new reception area, a gift shop, a full commercial kitchen and new public washrooms.
Much-needed amenities will provide guests with more comfort, accessibility and culinary options, but it is the second floor of indoor space that has Neudorf so excited.
It will house a 200-seat studio theatre, which just might be the largest “black box” east of Calgary. It will allow for smaller productions, speaking events, and — in combination with the new kitchen — plans are afoot to feature dinner theatre and yearround productions.
It is still hoped that Badlands Amphitheatre’s late-summer and fall events will continue as scheduled, including the Tom Cochrane and Red Rider concert, the Roots, Blues & Barbecue event and Lightfest: Fireworks in the Badlands.
Adding 5,000 square feet to the Badlands Amphitheatre will certainly enhance its reputation as a premier outdoor live theatre, concert and event venue.
Some of us remember when the International Hotel on 4th Avenue S.W. opened 50 years ago as our first all-suite hotel. An impressive 35 storeys, it sported a popular lobby bar and well patronized lower-level restaurant. I remember when it was a favourite of film crews who needed to relax in kitchen-equipped space after long days on set.
Now owned by Minto Group, the property has been converted into premium long- and short-term rental apartments, still with the former hotel’s amenities of rooftop terrace, fitness centre and indoor pool, as well as downtown parking.
Dale Taylor, who has served as executive director at the Centre for Newcomers and as an associate director for Mennonite Central Committee Canada, has been appointed as interim executive director of MCC Alberta for an 18-month term.
Vance Neudorf, executive director of the Badlands Passion Play, helps with construction of a 5,000-square-foot addition to the Badlands Arts Centre. The play though, has been cancelled.