John Roper stepped into his new role as general manager of the Lester Centre of the Arts on July 15. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

John Roper stepped into his new role as general manager of the Lester Centre of the Arts on July 15. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Prince Rupert Lester Centre has a new leading man

More than 20 years experience, second-generation theatre manager grew up backstage

There is a new face directing the stage at the Lester Centre of the Arts, with the June 15 arrival of John Roper stepping into the lead role as general manager.

The performing arts centre has been without a general manager since the early months of 2020 just after the pandemic lowered the curtain on all performances.

Roper, a second-generation theatre manager, has more than 20 years of experience behind the scenes in theatre operations starting as a poster boy and working his way up. For the past seven years, he was Phoenix Theatre GM in Fort Nelson.

As a new local resident, Roper said one of the first orders of business is to become acquainted with the Prince Rupert neighbourhood and integrate. As such one of his first acts as manager will be to launch a survey involving the community.

“It’s really important that as an organization our goals and our strategic vision at the Lester Centre are in line with what the community wants,” Roper said. “I really want to know what’s worked in the past with the community, and what the community hopes to get out of this facility in the future.”

“At the end of the day, it really comes down to ensuring that the center continues to serve Prince Rupert and surrounding areas, economically, socially, and educationally. It’s really important that the taxpayers are getting the best value from the facility for their tax dollars.”

Another priority for the manager, whose first theatre experience was meeting Mr. Dressup backstage when he was four years old, is to ensure audience satisfaction.

“Whatever steps we need to take to do that, we’re going to do that,” he said. “We need to ensure audiences feel good about coming back to live performances at the Lester Centre.”

Roper believes in enhancing the theatre experience for customers. The whole dynamic reaches far beyond the standard of performance, sound quality, and seating choice, he said.

“It’s not just about the performance. It’s the overall. It’s the end-to-end customer experience that starts the second you walk through the door, and it ends the second you walk out the door.”

He acknowledges that not every show is going to attract every demographic and a manager can’t cater to just one audience. That’s where a theatre needs to be able to diversify, he said.

“It’s just important to develop new audiences, and get people through the doors to get butts in the seats, no matter what.”

Sometimes people need convincing that a live production is something they are going to want to take in, he explained.

“People can be set in their ways, they have their tastes, they know what they want to see. New experiences are something that people don’t always seek out, but change is good.”

Roper said he knows it’s a lot of work for families or couples to even get to a live performance, with kids, babysitters, and just getting ready to go out after a long day at work, on top of the cost of tickets.

“We need to make sure that the community has equitable access to the shows. You don’t want to have a show where the tickets are so expensive that half the audience can’t afford to come. I hope to continue ensuring the entire community has equitable access to shows. I think the Lester Centre has already done a good job at that.”

K-J Millar | Journalist
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