Carrying the Lester Centre into its 30th year

The life of the Lester Centre rests on the shoulders of one woman who makes herself available anytime someone requests to use the facility.

With the 30th Anniversary of the Lester Centre of the Arts on Saturday, residents reflect on how the theatre has impacted the community, allowing creativity to flourish.

While artists and volunteers are the glue to the theatre, the life and blood of the Lester Centre of the Arts rests on the shoulders of one woman who makes herself available anytime someone requests to use the facility.

In September 2001, when Crystal Lorette walked through the doors as the new front-of-house manager, nobody was there. The board of directors was searching for a new general manager, and for a couple months it was just Lorette running the theatre.

“I was green. I had background in office management. I didn’t know what I was getting into. It was exciting and scary,” she said, sitting between two desks with stacks of papers as she prepares for the 30th Anniversary celebration on Feb. 4.

Her first show was Don Burnstick, a First Nations comedian, and after getting her feet wet she said her hair has been straight back ever since.

In 2006, she dove right in when Michael Sawatzky stepped down as the general manager. She took on the position as part of a five year plan and 11 years later she’s still deep in her role. As the sixth general manager since the building opened, Lorette is the first who was born and raised in Prince Rupert.

“I really enjoy the job. It’s a different ball game every day,” she said. But it’s also a challenge. If people call to book the place until 1 a.m., then she’s there.

When she started in 2001, there were three staff members. As the cost of business went up and the operating grant from the city didn’t increase, the Lester Centre staff was cut down to two.

Lorette is now doing both jobs — as front of house manager and general manager. They rely heavily on volunteers to operate each show smoothly. They have 116 that they draw from, 16 of whom work backstage. Recently, the technical director left and with a fully scheduled season and only Lorette to run the show, she started making calls for help.

“Not one person turned me down,” she said. Sawatzky came back to help as well. The 30th anniversary celebration will have 145 performers and the 1.5 million patron will walk through the doors on Feb. 4.

Looking forward, Lorette said the focus will be on preserving the building. She has grandchildren in the community and she wants them to be able to come as adults and enjoy the performances, or perhaps even perform on stage themselves.