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Building code prevents Mission theatre group from hosting productions

Opening Nite Theatre needs to find new venue or make repairs to hold shows
Opening Nite Theatre Society president Camille Atebe says it's hard to plan for the future as productions are no longer allowed in their North Railway Avenue location.

When the curtains closed on The Boat in the Tiger Suit in March,  Opening Nite Theatre Society volunteers didn’t know it could be the last show on the small Mission stage. 

On Monday (June 10), theatre president Camille Atebe watched as a City of Mission bylaw officer taped a “Do Not Occupy for Theatre Use” sign on the downtown building. 

The placard cites construction and occupancy without a permit as the reason for the notice. Atebe and the Opening Nite team learned in May that productions at the theatre would be shut down indefinitely. 

“There are definitely days when I think it's over,” Atebe said. 

The theatre has called North Railway Avenue its home for 18 years. Prior to 2019,  the theatre didn't need a business license. However, the business license bylaw was amended to include a different category for non-profits. City of Mission chief administrative officer Mike Younie says local non-profits probably weren't notified at the time. 

Last year, the theatre received a letter from a bylaw officer informing the society it needed a business license. The process to obtain it included a building inspection. 

The inspector noticed deficiencies in the building in violation of the provincial building code, including fire separation and a lack of a sprinkler system.

“We know it's an old building. We know there's stuff that needs to be improved and we've done everything we can to make sure it's as safe and as accessible as possible,” Atebe said. 

The cost of repairing the building would far exceed Opening Nite’s annual budget of $40,000 and would require approval from the landlord.  Atebe estimates repairs would cost between $50,000 and $100,000. 

“I know the rules are the rules but the rules are not always written with an understanding of what actually happens,” Atebe said. 

Younie says because the theatre violates the provincial building code, the city can't turn a blind eye to the issues. 

"For ticket holders, there's an expectation that those sorts of facilities will meet the code requirements," Younie said. 

He says the city is working with Opening Nite to find alternative solutions. 

"Our focus has to be on the safety of the public who are visiting that facility. We have an obligation to them," Younie said. "We do recognize the value that the Opening Nite Theatre brings to the community. They've been around for many years and it provides a real benefit in terms of arts and culture."

Mission arts and culture manager Mark Haney says the theatre closing would be a tremendous loss. 

“They really do some extraordinary work and they're pursuing the art form of theatre in a way that – if they weren't doing it –there'd be a big hole in Mission's cultural fabric,” Haney said.

Moving forward, the main focus for Opening Nite is finding a new venue to host shows and create revenue in the interim.  The North Railway location could remain a rehearsal space.

“It's hard to plan for the future when you don't know if you're gonna have one,” Atebe said. 

The rent prices at other potential locations eclipse the current cost, and options are limited. 

“We've always known that this building might be pulled out from under us at any moment. But we've been looking and there's nothing else that we can afford to rent – any other building around here is four or five times the price and we'd still have to do all the upgrades to make it a theatre, which we definitely can't afford.”​​

Haney says options to hold performances are being floated, including the cafetorium at Heritage Park, but an increasing number of shows need smaller venues. 

“This puts a huge spotlight on the desperate need we have in Mission for a smaller performance venue. The Clarke [Theatre] is great for a lot of things, but not really for smaller-scale things,” Haney said. 

“We've got 50 seats. It's nice and small and intimate. To do that on a massive stage is just not really…  financially viable. There's no way we can sell enough tickets,” Atebe said.

Atebe will bring a delegation to council on Monday (June 17) to advocate for a smaller venue in Mission.

“This will be a condo tower at some point in the future and I don't know if we’re going to survive that. But I also want there to be something for the people who are living in that condo tower to do – a recreational thing and to bond and make friends,” Atebe said. 

The theatre has been a large part of Atebe’s life and features approximately 45 volunteers each year. Most of the volunteers, including Atebe, work full-time jobs as well. 

“It's exhausting to do 40 hours a week [of work] and then also do another 40 hours of volunteer work for something that it seems like the city just doesn't care. It just wants to let go because it's easier for them,” Atebe said. 

Opening Nite still plans to hold another play in October at a different location. 

“Wherever we manage to have Opening Nite do their next show, I hope everyone who's expressed support for their situation expresses support by buying a ticket and coming to see their work,” Haney said.

Dillon White

About the Author: Dillon White

I joined the Mission Record in November of 2022 after moving to B.C. from Nova Scotia earlier in the year.
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