New operators of the 274-seat Raven’s Cry Theatre in Sechelt are planning sweeping upgrades to enhance live performances and a return of regular Metropolitan Opera screenings.
Sechelt residents Kevin and Jennifer McGarry finalized their lease agreement with the building’s owners, the shíshálh Nation, on July 21. The husband-and-wife team takes over from Christopher August and Jessie August, who have operated the venue since 2019.
Although their business experience stems from the construction and marketing sectors — the McGarrys also own Iron Horse Construction and Tidal Gutters — theatre management felt like a natural next step. Two of their children worked part-time at the Raven’s Cry during their high school years. Jennifer has directed and produced productions for stage and film.
“My real love is live theatre,” said Jennifer. “The goal is to be profitable, but it’s just a fun way to do it.”
The theatre was built in the early 1990s with funding from the federal government. It was converted later that decade to handle cinema projection. One of the McGarrys’ first public gestures was to reinforce the venue’s reputation as Sechelt’s preeminent purveyor of motion pictures.
In August, they ran an online contest to choose movie revivals for the Labour Day weekend. Back-to-school classics Clueless (1995) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) earned top votes. To recognize local educators, admission for school principals is free.
“I think the biggest goal that we’ve discussed is giving people a good night out,” said Kevin. “We want it to be fun and exciting, and for people to see that the staff is enjoying themselves. We want to make the sound system second-to-none and we want to make the projection the best we can.”
The McGarrys have already upgraded equipment that allows the theatre to restart projection of live opera performances from the Metropolitan Opera. The opera screenings, which are broadcast by satellite from New York City, were begun by earlier operators Doug and Deb Proby. The Probys also invested in a movable cinema screen to safeguard the venue’s versatility.
The theatre is a popular platform for live theatre and dance performances, including regular recitals by the Coast Academy of Dance and Waldorf Ballet. Classical performances by the Coastal Recital Society take advantage of its Steinway concert grand piano. On its hardwood stage in mid-October, the Sechelt Arts Festival plans a multimedia tribute to Juno award-winning singer Joni Mitchell.
“I think the pandemic kind of took something away from us because we couldn’t get out [for entertainment],” said Jennifer. “Watching Netflix and scrolling on your phone doesn’t give you the same level of immersion that you get when you go to an event.”
Changes are afoot. The McGarrys, with help from their children, have begun a review of the theatre’s technical systems and overhaul of backstage spaces. Meanwhile, they are determined to preserve the venue’s distinctive shíshálh heritage.
“This is shíshálh Nation land here,” said Kevin. “We want to respect all their traditions and all their culture. Anything in here that reflects that is what has made the Raven’s Cry what it is.”