When I was a front-line Youth Worker, I was reminded often by my supervisor “You can have a strong program without a great space but you can’t have a great space without a strong program”. I think about this in relation to Second Storey Theatre. Second Storey Theatre was a small black box improv theatre located outside Vancouver, BC. I was one of the original guys, along with Graham Myers, that helped open the venue in 2009 but when 4 out of 5 of us walked away 3 years later, it was Graham Myers that made the space great. Graham ran Second Storey Theatre for 3 years but despite all of his successes, Graham decided to close the theatre in August 2014.
I chatted with Graham at a Pub prior to the theatre closing for good.
R: When you took over the theatre from us (table23) what was your mission?
G: My mission was to prove that the Tri-Cities [Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam and Port Moody] have a demand and need for accessible theatre. There are piles of artists out here that don’t have an opportunity to be seen. I wanted a venue that was accessible to everyone. Unfortunately we lost money the whole time trying to be that.
R: Why did you lose money?
G: I should clarify. The theatre never lost money. 2014 has been the most successful year yet. I, however, have been taking a financial hit. As the sole owner, I don’t make enough money to survive.
R: How come?
G: We were pretty silly about not ever asking for help or applying for grants.
R: Why no grants?
G: We are a for-profit business. What I found for myself personally, is that I needed to prove that the business worked and that it’s financially viable. I knew if I had to rely on applying for grants every year that I would fail. I wanted an established business model that worked.
R: Which is?
G: We saw success in show formats that were fun and recognizable. But within the City of Port Coquitlam, there was not a big demand for Friday and Saturday night shows. There’s not much of a night life in suburbia. People get their 6 pack of beer, go home and watch the hockey game. There’s a greater demand for outlets like training programs. They want to use improv towards applicable things, like doing their jobs. It’s been the training and classes that are the most consistent.
R: So is it fair to say that if you’re going to operate a theatre in suburbia, you should prioritize education first and performance second.
G: Yes. It took me 3 years to figure it out.
R: And now you have no theatre. Way to go, dip shit.
G: Second Storey Theatre the location is closing down. Is that the end of Second Storey? No. It’s going to continue as a company. The venue is closing down. We had a shitty location. We had the worse one. It’s above a dairy queen in a business office. 1000 degrees in the summer. Freezing cold in the winter. Not accessible. No street signage. If we were in Vancouver, and we didn’t put a sign on that building, people would come and see us because hipsters love that shit, but being in Port Coquitlam, people actually have to be able to find you.
R: Do you have any advise for someone who wants to open an improv theatre in suburbia?
G: Don’t do it.
That’s not true. Here’s what it is. There are certain things you have to understand. First: You are never going to stop working. Second: You create a community and you are responsible for that community.
R: So out of Second Storey Theatre grew a community?
G: Yes. You can’t be prepared for that. I never understood what it meant until it happened. I love the world and people around me. The amount of positivity that has come out of it is huge. But as the person in charge of that you have to be very sure of yourself. You need to know what you’re projecting and what you’re shooting for or the community is lost. I am a big fish in the small pond and I love the recognition. But my overall thing is the betterment of the individuals involved in the experience. You can’t ever ever ever sacrifice that for an asshole. You have to lead by example. Do what you can. Do I always do that? No. Have I messed up a lot of relationships in building this thing? Absolutely. But I’m always learning and trying to do things better. As a leader, my whole purpose is to allow people to find themselves and find the community as a home to be in.
January 2015 Update: Graham is now the artistic director of Terry Fox Theatre in Port Coquitlam. He runs drop-in workshops on Monday nights and facilitates a weekly comedy showcase on Tuesdays at 7:30pm.