Galen Olstead is the latest in a long line of theatre managers who have overseen Cranbrook’s Key City Theatre. And with a combination of insight, experience and adventurousness, he stands to make his mark at the facility.
“I saw the position posted on an arts website,” Olstead said. “I’d been looking for a change in direction for some time, so I applied. It was an interesting interview process; as much as they were interviewing me, I was interviewing them to make sure it was the right fit.
“I love the physical surroundings of Cranbrook itself. Coming from the Lower Mainland, access to nature is there, but you have to seek it.
“Here, it’s the exact opposite. It’ll be a little bit of an ongoing transition-period for me, but I am loving it.”
Olstead considers the Cranbrook arts community to be vibrant, exciting, determined, and involved.
“I went to see the Cranbrook Community Theatre production of ‘Halo’ during my first week living in Cranbrook — and was overwhelmed. There’s amazing talent here, and amazing young talent, which needs to be recognized. I was blown away by the sophistication of the stage design, and I love that great old Studio Stage Door Theatre. If anything, it just confirmed that I am in the right place, in all ways.”
Olstead’s career in theatre operations is deep and detailed.
“I was the Operations Director at the Kay Meek Theatre (Vancouver) for eight years. KCT’s a similar-sized venue, as far as audience size goes, but there are considerable differences.
“There’s a much broader range of ages and demographics and styles that happens here in Cranbrook, versus my experience in West Vancouver. So it’s a little bit tougher.
“The Kay Meek Theatre had the advantage of being fairly focused, where here you have to figure out the entire broad range of cultural tastes. Which is great. It only proves what a multi-dimensional city Cranbrook is!”
Olstead also lists London’s Royal Albert Hall on his resume, where he spent two and a half years as Front of House manager.
“I was in charge of all of the staff in the front-of-house operations, and then I worked throughout the building in different capacities. I saw the Cream reunion from 20 feet away. I saw Eric Clapton a number of times. Probably one of the more complex events we hosted was the Cirque de Soleil, which came in every year; we had to re-do the entire interior of the hall!
“It was a neat venue to work in, since they accessed a wide variety of different potentials. We did a number of concerts with Sting there. The concerts themselves were always fabulous, but for me the real professional growth from the Albert Hall was all the problems and difficulties of delivering events, time and again. Anything that could go wrong; from trying to get camera feeds, or trying to get the technical side to work properly — we had to work with that almost on an event-to-event basis: how to problem-solve those different areas. It was very good learning ground.”
Olstead had the opportunity to oversee high-calibre events in place during his first week on the job in Cranbrook, including performances by country star George Canyon and an evening with CBC personality Stuart McLean.
“There’s a fair amount of time trying to figure out: what’s the venue? Who are the people involved and who are the people who really care about it? What’s the community? It’s really nice to already have things set up in place, to see that interaction, to give you some guidance.
“Like anything, you start to see a fresh perspective; not being in the community, not being part of the theatre to begin with, you see where things are really working well, and you start to see where things can be improved.”
Olstead is not only impressed with the theatre itself, but with the depth of artistic activity within the area, which (per capita) often outranks larger centres such as Kelowna, or even Victoria.
“One of the first impressions I had of Cranbrook’s current artistic mindset came from a survey done this past summer by the Key City Theatre’s marketing staff. What really resonated there was there’s a huge local demand for live theatre. One of the first things I’ve been looking at to bring into the KCT are theatre events which wouldn’t otherwise be presented here. Which would add to the community.
Local director Paul Kershaw is already handling an upcoming production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in January, which Olstead is looking forward to.
“It’s a brave project, it’s a difficult project — and there are very few places which undertake this type of performance. I’m eager to see how Paul brings it to life!”
Olstead’s imagination is fired with the promise of the future for both the Key City Theatre, and the Cranbrook community as a whole.
“The Key City Theatre is a top-line venue. The staff is fantastic. Fantastic volunteers. Fantastic board of directors. For the most part, I’d say 95 per cent of the theatre is already running really well. But, like anything, you see certain areas which might need some tweaking — both in events programming and in how we connect with the community. We need to do a bit of work on the infrastructure; the lights, the stage, and what happens on stage. Our capacity needs to be built up more. My major focus right now is to develop that capacity.
“And hopefully, with doing that, we can see those really top-level events brought into Cranbrook. I believe Cranbrook should be a major player in the national events-hosting world. It has the facility, it has the community, it has the accommodations, and it has viable populations in the surrounding regions to reach out to in order to increase the audiences.”