The final piece of a $119.7 million bond approved by Camas School District voters in February 2016, slid into place this month with the official reopening of the district’s newly renovated Joyce Garver Theater.
The district hosted tours of the historic theater on Wednesday, Oct. 19, and unveiled a sign near the theater’s front doors honoring former Camas drama, music and art teacher Joyce Garver, the theater’s namesake who died in May 2003.
In the theater’s spacious new lobby, Camas High School musicians entertained the crowd while Joyce Garver’s daughter, Julie Garver, promoted the Camas High School Alumni Choir’s upcoming concert, set for 2 p.m. Saturday, March 11, 2023; asked visitors to share stories and memories of Joyce Garver; and solicited donations for the CHS Alumni Choir’s fundraising efforts to raise $5,000 to buy risers for the historic theater.
Julie Garver, who sang with her mother’s Camas High choir during her own high school career in the late 1980s, said she was thrilled to help promote plans to revamp the school district’s dilapidated theater when community members reached out to her during the lead-up to the school district’s 2016 facilities bond.
Built in 1935, the theater was an addition to Camas High School until the 1970s, when the high school was demolished. In the mid-1980s, the theater got a slight upgrade, with a new entry and a few interior revamps, and served as a performance center for the school district and greater Camas community until the district closed the building in 2009 due to safety concerns.
“We wanted to preserve the look and feel of the historic theater as much as possible,” Julie Garver said last week. “And the result is phenomenal.”
Though much of the renovation work focused on creating a safe, stable structure that meets the requirements of modern-day seismic codes, the revamp also included many items on the original theater supporters’ wishlists: more restrooms for theater-goers; ramps and an elevator to make the theater more accessible to people living with disabilities; a flexible lobby area where community members can gather before shows and during intermissions; a classroom that doubles as a green room; a 700-seat auditorium; safer rigging systems on the stage; and an updated control room with new sound and light systems.
“When I was a student, (the theater) had this tiny lobby with low ceilings,” Julie Garver said last week, gesturing to the theater’s newly renovated lobby with its high ceilings, spacious windows and hardwood floors. “This is a performing arts center we can be proud of.”
Camas music teachers who attended the Oct. 19 theater-reopening event agreed with Garver’s assessment. Music educators Brenda Sappington and Mishele Mays, of Skyridge Middle School, and Liberty Middle School Band Director Greg Henion said they were excited for their students to perform in the newly renovated theater and praised the new lighting and sound systems.
The only thing the music teachers would have liked to see included in the new theater that is missing is a cyclorama, or large curtain or wall that creates an even surface on the back of the stage — allowing lighting designers to create illusions during a performance and shielding the movement of performers who might need to cross the stage without being seen.
Other than that, however, the Camas educators said they were pleased by the many upgrades to the theater’s auditorium and control room.
“The sound is so good,” Henion said of the new theater.
“It’s exciting to see it up and running,” Sappington added.
The Liberty and Skyridge educators are already planning to hold their spring musicals — “James and the Giant Peach” in April and “Annie” in May — inside the newly renovated theater.
And while the space is a perfect spot for the Camas School District’s student performances, the theater also is designed for community events.
Julie Garver said last week she hopes the theater named for her mother will once again host community concerts like the ones the Camas Performing Arts Series used to present inside the theater four or five times a year.
“We had so many fun shows here,” Julie Garver said. “And I am hoping we can revive the community concert series.”