Phoenix Theatre Management Society

Fort Nelson's Phoenix Theatre invests $185,000 in upgrades and increases movie attendance by 24%

Deep in B.C.’s northeast, the Phoenix Theatre has been Fort Nelson’s entertainment hub since 1992. Since the early 90’s, the seats have been filled by audiences eager to take in movie showings, dance recitals, musicals, plays, concerts, ceremonies and much more. The amusing events regularly offered by the theatre, which is more than 350km away from the nearest cinematic theatre in Fort St. John, adds to the quality of life in the area by providing a welcoming place for community members to gather and socialize.

“The theatre means a lot of different things to the community because we offer a diverse range of services and opportunities,” said John Roper, general manager of the Phoenix Theatre. “For our performers, it is an outlet for creativity and self-expression. For many it’s a great night of entertainment – we’ve presented many groups from Fred Penner to Randy Bachman. Many use the venue to educate, fundraise or simply to watch a film with family and friends.”

When the Phoenix Theatre Management Society applied to the Trust in 2015 for $30,000 to replace 220 worn out seats, it was apparent that the tired chairs were ready to retire after supporting so many enthusiastic patrons.

Watch a timelapse capturing the theatre's transformation.
Video courtesy of Phoenix Theatre

Phoenix Theatre fundraised nearly $15,000 by allowing patrons to sponsor a chair and place a small plaque with a message on the seat of their choice. So far, 119 seats have been sponsored to help the society with the costs of the renovations.

“We sold and donated many of the old seats to people and organizations,” Roper explained. “Over 100 of the old seats were donated to our local curling rink for their second life where people were sitting on concrete to watch the games. Many of our old seats are on people’s decks and sheds. Very few of them ended up in the landfill.”

While the theatre was closed for several weeks due to the chair installations, the society started a new initiative called Popcorn Dash Delivery. This program hand delivered popcorn and freshly squeezed lemonade to people and businesses in Fort Nelson. This provided a significant boost to the concession’s revenues and provided staff with work during renovations. The program is continued to this day with $1 from every order going to a different local charity. Recent charities supported by Popcorn Dash Delivery include the Fort Nelson Family Development Society, Healthy Horizons, the Fort Nelson Community Literacy Society, Foundation Glycosylation and the Fort Nelson Hospital and Healthcare Foundation.

Other additions during the upgrades included the addition of five inches of leg room, drywall repair and a fresh coat of paint in the auditorium and storage spaces. In some places, the paint applied in 2016 was the first layer of new paint since the walls were originally painted 24 years earlier.  Linoleum was also installed in each row of chairs and LED light strips were placed on the stairs to increase safety and visibility. The old, stained carpet was removed and replaced with fresh new threads in the auditorium.

“Another note of interest is our attendance since the seat replacement,” Roper said. “In 2016, the year the seating project was completed, we had a total attendance of 12,429 for our film programming. For our 2018 year, we had a total of 15,417 – a 24 per cent increase in attendance over two years. The economic climate of the town has not changed much since then, so I attribute the increase in attendance in large part to the seating project.”

Funding for this project was provided through Northern Development’s Community Halls and Recreation Facilities program. This program provides up to $30,000, or 70% of the pro
ject’s budget, to improve, expand or develop facilities in order to increase the number of events held annually in the community.

The old chairs in the Phoenix Theatre were installed in 1992.