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An iconic, boat-shaped institution is about to sink.
I know we’ve all said this at one point or another, so forgive the cliché: I’ve got a bone to pick with Oscar Hammerstein.
Back in 1927, he wrote a little Broadway production called Show Boat, rudely not considering that, nearly 100 years later, someone might want to use the name for their own unrelated musical spectacular about the tragic tale of the Kitsilano Showboat stage. Ugh! Men! So thoughtless! What else am I supposed to call my technically not-yet-written, definitely unfinanced love letter to this enduring institution of poolside community theatre? Boat-Shaped Beach Stage? Show Boatier? There’s No Business Like Showboat Business? (Producers: call me.)
But I guess the bigger issue with my hypothetical Showboat-themed play, besides the fact that I am not a librettist and have no musical-theatre experience, is that there would be nowhere to perform it. Because the iconic boat-themed outdoor stage at Kits Beach—which is my dream venue in addition to being my dream muse—is being demolished this fall.
That’s right: though the Showboat has provided a free outdoor performance space for community groups since 1935, the glory days of being able to accidentally watch a children’s capoeira demonstration or a ferret magic show en route to your Spikeball game are over. It’s rattling to realize that it will soon be gone: I know, for many of us, a seaside outing simply isn’t complete without seeing an adult improv troupe get attacked mid-set by Canada geese. If enjoying the spectacle of a one-man barbershop quartet while eating a $7 concession stand popsicle isn’t on your summer bucket list, then do you even really live in Vancouver? A dressing-room fire back in the spring caused severe damage to the structure, and the Parks Board ultimately proclaimed the whole stage irrepairable. While the Showboat gang squeezed in a few last performances over the summer, the plan is to tear it down this fall. It seems a little inappropriate not to give the Showboat a respectful burial at sea, but you know how bureaucrats are.
So while we may have to suffer without sensual summer-evening performances from a seniors’ chair-dancing class for the time being, eventually, from the ashes, a paddlewheel-flanked phoenix will rise. The volunteer-run Showboat Society has already raised more than $30,000 from community members for operations and replacement equipment—you can’t be the city’s premiere source of live kazoo-choir entertainment without a good sound system, after all—including a few thousand bucks from Mayor Sim’s own pocket.
That fundraiser, though, won’t be contributing to the rebuild of the stage. Instead, to fund construction, the Society is looking for one or two major “community hero” sponsors. Vice-president Barry Leinbach (whose family has been operating the Showboat since the ’40s, and who will presumably be the protagonist of my play, ideally played by Ben Platt) estimates that Showboat 2.0 could cost a couple of million to build (with the intention of being a multi-use building). This is, pardon my French, les bananas. Someone out there in the city knows where the disassembled pieces of the infamous Sunset Beach Barge are—it’s time for that hunk of metal to fulfill its true destiny. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of doing a sword-fighting recital or free mime workshop will absolutely be willing to pitch in; with a little elbow grease, we can pull together something that’s just as delightfully incongruous as the original. But do not invite Oscar Hammerstein. He knows why.
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This story was originally published in the November 2023 issue of Vancouver Magazine.