MORRISBURG – “It’s a real crisis for live theatre,” said Donnie Bowes, artistic director of Upper Canada Playhouse. “And that includes ours.”
The Playhouse launched a special fundraising campaign March 29 with the goal of ensuring that exceptional live theatre continues to thrive in this community. People are being asked to “help our Playhouse get on with the show.”
There’s lots of activity at The Playhouse these days as plans are being made for a 2021 Season and the theatre grapples with challenges faced by all theatres across the country. “It’s like landing a plane in a snowstorm,’ remarked Artistic Director Donnie Bowes. ‘We know the destination is delivering an entertaining season of laughter and music that everyone can enjoy safely. But there’s lots of turbulence trying to land it.”
Selecting shows that audiences expect to see is one thing. But choosing a season that’s affordable considering the restrictions posed by COVID-19 is quite another.
The Playhouse is usually flush financially at this time of year, having come out of a previous year with revenues from full houses. But the Upper Canada Playhouse has been dark for over a year: maintaining the venue following a year of no box office revenue has taken its toll on any reserves UCP typically enjoys. In addition to this issue, the theatre does not receive any direct arts funding.
“We have been grateful to receive the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy and some small business funding, allowing us to continue to keep our small core staff until we can re-open,” said Bowes.
“And for the last 20 years we’ve been proud to sustain ourselves without arts funding. We did not need to apply for funding from such agencies like Canada Council or Ontario Arts Council.”
However, for Upper Canada Playhouse, like all theatres, the fall out from COVID-19 has been crippling, and has led to tough new challenges.
“We are faced with only being able to sell 20 per cent of our seats going forward,” Bowes said. “When federal and provincial governments issued millions to support theatres, we looked forward to applying for this support. But the governments directed these funds to arts agencies only, and only those theatres who had already been receiving support from them were invited to apply. Other theatres in the same situation as Upper Canada are currently lobbying for this process to change. Hopefully it will in the future and we will then be eligible to receive Arts funding.”
Consequently, the Playhouse is following the lead of many theatre colleagues and launching Help The Playhouse Get On With The Show!, a special fundraising campaign to fill that financial gap.
Bowes stresses that the loss of show revenue from not producing last season, together with the substantial cost of COVID-19 protocol equipment and special staffing, are two difficult challenges. A major concern, however, is only being able to sell 20-25 per cent of theatre seats to accommodate social distancing.
“Audiences expect a professional product and that comes at a substantial cost. We’re determined to make our season happen. But we’ll need to rely on supporters, through our Campaign, to get there,” added Bowes.
Along with dealing with these challenges, however, is excitement at the prospect of lighting up the stage so audiences can laugh and sing again. People look forward to a Playhouse season. The theatre is also aware of how their audiences help to boost the local economy every season.
The Playhouse is engaging with other theatres to form cost-saving co-productions, and has negotiated the appearance of popular and familiar faces such as Norm Foster, Marshall Button, Leisa Way and Aaron Solomon. The Playhouse is putting together a season featuring comedies, concerts and a wonderful Christmas show.
It will also provide all the health and safety measures which ensure that audiences will feel safe as they enjoy their Playhouse experience.
The building will be sanitized and deep-cleaned before every show, will have a designated COVID-19 compliance officer on duty at all times, and will also provide performers, technicians and staff safe workplace conditions. In addition to that, the Playhouse has established an excellent relationship with Eastern Ontario Health Unit, which has been very supportive and has provided expert and helpful advice all along the way.
To aid in the Playhouse fundraising drive, actors, directors, musicians, local businesses and lovers of theatre have put together an exceptional video, produced by Liam Collins, currently airing on the Playhouse website. Norm Foster, Lesia Way, Marshall Button, Barry Fawcett (chair of the UCP board), and mayor Steven Byvelds are just a few of the many friends of the Playhouse who have came together to stress how very much they miss this theatre and how they hope everyone will get behind the campaign to see it survives a very tough time. “It’s your theatre. Come own it. Help the Playhouse Get on with the Show.”
The theatre hopes to make a formal season announcement in late spring. As they make that decision, close eyes will be on the pandemic situation and on the Help The Playhouse Get On With The Show! campaign. The box office will re-open for limited access on Tuesday, April 6. Donations to the Playhouse campaign can be made online, by phone or in person at the box office.
Director Donnie Bowes remains very confident that the “plane will land safely and, with everyone’s support, laughter and music will soon fill the theatre again.”
View the UCP’s Help the Playhouse Get On with the Show video below.