UBC Theatre Prof. Robert Gardiner - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 2 | Feb. 2, 2006
Black Box Studio Largest in Western Canada
By Lorraine Chan
Bulldozer tread marks still pit the cement floor, but a former
factory space at Great Northern Way Campus (GNWC) has turned
into a prized asset for Vancouver theatre and dance companies.
"This is the largest space of its kind in Western Canada,"
says Prof. Robert Gardiner, head of UBC Theatre, Film and
Creative Writing Dept. "And it's two or three times bigger
than anything else in Vancouver."
Measuring 892 sq. metres, the Black Box Studio offers affordable
rental space for both rehearsal and performance. Even before
the city's real estate crunch, this cavernous warehouse spelled
heaven for performers mounting large-scale productions. The
ceiling soars seven metres high and despite measuring 37 metres
long by 24 metres wide, there are only three posts to obscure
In theatre, a "black box" refers to a space where
the relationship of the stage with the audience is not fixed,
but always changeable. A director is free to specify a traditional
stage, theatre in the round or even have the audience move
around the performers.
Gardiner, who teaches scenery and lighting design, is spearheading
a joint venture to upgrade and further establish the Black
Box Studio as a rehearsal, performance, research and training
facility. He explains the City of Vancouver requires seismic,
fire-safety and other upgrades in order to grant a permanent
occupancy permit, which is necessary for regular performances.
GNWC is located east of Main St. and runs parallel to the
old Canadian National railroad tracks in the False Creek Flats.
In 2001, four major post-secondary institutions in B.C.'s
Lower Mainland joined together to establish the GNWC. The
British Columbia Institute of Technology, the Emily Carr Institute,
Simon Fraser University and UBC are now co-owners of the 8.9-hectare
parcel of land, previously owned by Finning International
The GNWC institutions are currently working together -- in
concert with the B.C. and federal governments, the City of
Vancouver, industry and other agencies -- to build a unique,
integrated centre of excellence in teaching, learning, research
and entrepreneurship. Initially focusing on two themes of
Urban Sustainability and Transforming Arts and Culture, GNWC
aims to provide program and collaborative research opportunities
not available on any one campus.
Two UBC theatre production classes are taught at GNWC. And
recently, Black Box Studio events drew Vancouverites to the
raw, industrial site for Susan Kozel's video-dance installation
Trajets, the Vancouver Art Gallery Gala and the Vancouver
Gardiner hopes the Black Box Studio will provide Vancouver
with a site for future international projects. "Theatre
at UBC has been talking to Kaleideskop Theatre in Copenhagen
about a co-creation, but we don't really have a place to work.
And several companies with the PuSH Festival have talked to
us about possible collaboration with theatres in Europe. The
Black Box Studio would be ideal for developing new work of
Gardiner adds, "We want to pool resources to create
an artistically experimental lab where there's opportunity
to share ideas. This would be fabulous for teaching students
or hosting site-specific performances, film projects and installation
In a 1,115 sq-metre warehouse next to the Black Box Studio,
UBC operates a scenery production shop, which supports organizations
as diverse as B.C. Ballet, PuSH Festival, Mortal Coil, NeWest,
Pi Theatre, Bard on the Beach, The Electric Company, UBC School
of Music Opera and Judith Marcuse Projects.
"It's great for innovation and sharing resources because
the UBC facility acts as a hub where smaller companies can
access a ready pool of designers and technicians," says
Gardiner. "The below-market rental rates mean smaller
companies can build sets and also re-use stored scenic elements
like stairs and walls."
During June 19-23, GNWC will host the seven-day International
EARTH Village Festival, associated with the United Nations
2006 World Urban Forum. The Festival, a UNESCO-designated
event, will be produced by Judith Marcuse Projects and will
feature premiere performances of its EARTH production, a large-scale
music, theatre, media and dance exploration of youth's thoughts
and feeling about the planet.
More than 20 countries will take part in Festival events
that include performances, exhibitions, street theatre, food,
public dialogue and sustainability workshops.
Marcuse says the gritty setting of the Black Box Studio is
part of its charm and that it readily "transforms into
a magical venue."