Centrium renos mean fewer big acts this fall

Peter Pan and Dracula are coming, but virtually no big arena concerts are slated to draw thousands of fans to Red Deer’s Centrium — yet.

Peter Pan and Dracula are coming, but virtually no big arena concerts are slated to draw thousands of fans to Red Deer’s Centrium — yet.

On the bright side, this fall and winter’s entertainment lineup contains some classic literary characters, who will be brought to the stage at Red Deer College.

Besides the boy who refuses to grow up and the Transylvanian count who declines to die (the epic adventure and gothic suspense plays will run in November and February, respectively), there’s also Shakespeare’s fanciful A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the offing in October, as well as the romantic Summertime next spring.

Although local theatrical fare is reduced due to the unfortunate death of Ignition Theatre, the beloved play On Golden Pond is among Central Alberta Theatre’s full season of six comedies.

The cash-strapped CAT is hoping audiences will turn out in droves to support their season, which started this week with the zany, redneck comedy Greater Tuna, and continues into October with the puzzling comedy 2 Across and with My Three Angels in November.

A revised touring version of local playwright Andrew Kooman’s anti-sex trafficking play, She Has a Name, also plays a limited engagement at the Scott Block on October. It’s being presented by Calgary’s Burnt Thicket Theatre.

Some inventive concerts are planned by the ever popular Red Deer Symphony. The RDSO is not only offering a pops evening with crooner Michael Hope in January, but also bringing in a whole other symphony (Edmonton’s) for a grand finale concert to end the season memorably in June of 2013.

There are also regular recitals and concerts planned by the RDC music department, including the Symphonic Winds, Big Band and other groups.

And among the comic offerings are regular Bull Skit! comedy nights, as well as two performances by Kids in the Hall co-founder Kevin McDonald at the Scott Block (both made possible by Against the Wall Theatre), and other comedians.

But there’s only a smattering of out-of-town acts stopping in the city. One of the biggest names is Colin James, who performs Nov. 14 at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.

Where there were once Centrium-filling concerts by acts such as Hedley to look forward to, or a visit from Jerry Seinfeld or Alice Cooper, only one tribute concert — Rain: The Beatles Experience — is so far booked at the Centrium.

The reduced arena events are partly due to unavoidable circumstances.

John Harms, CEO and general manager of Westerner Park, said renovations are underway at the Centrium. By the end of October, 13 luxury suites, 40 club seats and an extra 1,000 general seats will be added to the 6,000-seat arena to make it more marketable.

Soon after, Agri-Trade, the agricultural trade show gets underway, taking the Centrium out of commission for another few weeks.

Harms believes the renovation has definitely hindered facility bookings this fall. “We have some possible bites for January,” he said, but nothing has been lined up so far.

Fewer Centrium concerts seem to be an unhappy trend — five years ago, Harms said there were up to 14 bookings a year at the facility, compared to about half a dozen in recent years. The Westerner Park board has had to look at various other revenue boosting/cost reducing options to make up for lost revenue.

While some people blame the slower economy or smaller artist tours for the decline, LiveNation’s executive vice-president of talent for Canada, Ian Lowe, doesn’t think these are significant factors.

Although LiveNation has seen a dip in the concert business — from handling 650 Western Canadian annual tours a few years ago to about 550 today, musicians still have to put on concerts to make money, said Lowe. He noted CD sales are on the decline and less revenue is earned from downloads.

However, touring artists need to rotate between performing in bigger and smaller centres, and for whatever reason, Lowe said the kind of tours that would normally stop in our city simply aren’t happening this fall.

Red Deer has great staff and facilities, as shown by successful Seinfeld and Elton John events, he maintains, “but the circumstances just aren’t happening this year.”

“We actually like Red Deer very much,” added Lowe, “and we tend to get great results whenever we do have tours there.”

So there you have it — the lack of big concerts could just be due to plain, bad luck.

But with less competition from out-of town events, this could be the year that local performers take centre stage and really shine.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com