LARGEST OUT­DOOR THEATRE GETS AD­DI­TION

New two-storey build­ing will more than dou­ble size of an­nual Pas­sion Play venue

Calgary Herald - - CITY + REGION - DAVID PARKER David Parker ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Her­ald. Read his col­umns on­line at cal­gary­her­ald.com/ busi­ness. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at info@david­parker.ca.

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.

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