Vancouver artist helps fund Metro Theatre through art

The abstract pieces are made entirely from set pieces and leftover paint


By Max Leckie

At Metro Theatre, a few materials go a long way thanks to a set decorator who uses the left-over set pieces of past plays to create abstract paintings.

Tracy-Lynn Chernaske created the Artful Theatre collection to help fund the theatre after she noticed how much material was thrown out.

“I thought that’s such a shame because there are beautiful things that can be made out of those things,” Chernaske said.

Metro Theatre, which is located at 1370 Southwest Marine Dr., has been in operation since the early 1960s and has faced many financial struggles in its half century of operations.

The theatre supports itself mainly through ticket sales and donations from patrons, Alison Schamberger president of the board of directors said, but those revenues aren’t enough.

“It does make it extremely hard to maintain two buildings,” she said.

Besides the building on Marine Drive, the theatre company also has a second building, the Oak Street Scene Shop at 8690 Oak St., where most of the sets for Metro’s productions are created and stored. That’s also where Chernaske’s main base of operations was set up for creating the artworks made entirely using reclaimed materials from the sets of former Metro Theatre productions.

The materials range from leftover paint and extra lengths of plywood to moulding, and even sawdust.

“A lot of the inspiration kind of came from the colours or the shape of the offcuts, looking at those pieces and seeing something that wasn’t there yet,” Chernaske said.

In many theatre companies, re-using materials is common practice, said Debra Danny, whose in charge of digital media at Metro.

“If we have leftover wood, we use it for the next project,” said Danny. “If we have leftover paint, we find a way of mixing it with something else so that it works for a project, perhaps even a year down the line.”

Because the work done at the theatre is broad in scope, everyone juggles a few different jobs at once, Chernaske said. She’s a prime example: painting and decorating sets, working in the box office and helping the publicity team.

“Everybody who does work here kind of is willing to put in and do a lot of work, which is awesome.”

In order to stay afloat, the theatre also has a range of fundraisers like the occasional garage sale to sell old props and costumes, as well as renting the theatre to other companies in between seasons.

Volunteers who love what they do, including the actors and directors, are also a big part of the cogs that keep Metro running, Danny said, putting in hours before and after to get their productions going.

“They put in so many hours into the show. You know, they start rehearsing literally months before and the rehearsal schedule is at least three days a week.”

Artists tend to be pretty thrifty, and have been reusing materials for ages, Chernaske said, and the theatre is no exception.

“[You take] something that already has character and you’re just making it a little bit better or tailoring it or highlighting it,” she said, “That’s what I love to do.”

Abstract art is sometimes a divisive subject, but for Tracy-Lynn Chernaske, it’s the openness to interpretation that excites her.

“Not everybody looks at River and sees a river, right? Not everybody looks at treeline and goes it’s the Northern Lights, right? And I love that. I love hearing what people have to say about it.”

She of course has her own meaning put into each piece.

River was created using setpieces from Hilda’s Yard, a story about a family changing over time as children become adults.

The way that rivers ebb and flow, and tributaries break off and reconnect reminds her of family ties, Chernaske said. “When I look at River I always think of … how a family could grow together but also could grow apart”

That connection to nature is common in her work, and Treeline is no exception.

One of Chernaske’s favourite interpretations was very personal to one spectator, who saw it as the ridge near her farm.

“I was like, ‘I’ve never been to that part of B.C. But I love that you identify with it,’” Chernaske said. “It’s not a crazy out there interpretation, But she literally saw a very specific place.”

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