Management shakeup at Terry Fox Theatre — again

Theatre manager Rick Rinder is given his walking papers by School District 43, which wants to turn the Port Coquitlam venue into a rental facility.

It's billed as The Venue of Opportunity.

But the manager of Port Coquitlam's Terry Fox Theatre fears the facility may soon became the Venue of Disrepair.

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In March, after months of negotiating with School District 43 officials to find ways to lower his salary and cut costs at the theatre, which is part of Terry Fox secondary, Rick Rinder was told his final day of work would be June 30.

Rinder, a well-known theatre manager in Canada who trained at the Banff School of Arts, was hired in November 2013 by SD43 after it severed ties that June with the non-profit group that had run the 336-seat theatre for years.

Rinder came in with virtually a blank slate and started to rebuild the operations. He had big plans: He wanted to create a better balance between the school's needs and community bookings, and saw potential to launch a state-of-the-art stagecraft program with Fox students.

For the first four months of his contract, he said he earned his "exuberant" wage. "I was a crew of one."
But then a technician and house manager were hired (on an hourly rate) and Rinder didn't have to be onsite as much.

While the bookings paid for the two extra staff, Rinder talked to SD43 officials about reducing his hours to save money. "If the manager could be paid by the hour and not be salaried, it was affordable," he said, "so we looked at ways at eliminating my salary or big chunks of it."

In late 2014, without any resolution to the matter, Rinder took a medical and professional leave from Terry Fox. Before he left, he said a senior SD43 administrator asked him to confirm he would return to the theatre. Rinder promised he would but, just before he got back in March, he was informed there was a change of plans and his last day would be June 30.

Rinder was heartbroken, not only because of the long hours and commitment he and his staff put into the facility but also because he had missed opportunities to gain work outside of the venue (theatre companies tend to pick their shows for the year and start putting together their teams in January and February).

"I think we had a really good thing started here," Rinder said of the theatre. "They didn't event give me a chance."

But SD43 secretary-treasurer Mark Ferrari said changes had to be made to cut costs. Although he didn't provide a figure, Ferrari said the cost of running Terry Fox Theatre had "increased exponentially over the years."

"The costs are scheduled to go higher next year," he said, noting the district isn't being funded adequately by the provincial government and is forced to absorb such expenditures as inflation. "We were heading well into the six figures in terms of a [theatre] subsidy."

As of July 1, bookings for Terry Fox Theatre will be done through the SD43 rental department, as is done for school rooms and gymnasiums used by community groups. Details are being fine-tuned but Ferrari said SD43 will be looking at best practices and protocols in other districts that operate theatres.

Rinder isn't convinced the rental model will work. "I don't think they have enough theatre experience to know the theatre is different from a gymnasium or a classroom," he said.

"I'm really worried about the technical equipment. Even if they get professional theatre technicians in here, if they don't have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the equipment — which is hours and hours — then I think it's soon to run into disrepair."

He added, "I know that the school board has a gun to their heads to reduce costs and, for the right reasons, they made a really bad choice."

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