ANTIGONISH: The directors of Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre say clear, immediate and significant action is needed from the province to help stabilize the financial situation they – along with other professional theatre companies face – as theatre as an art form for the community of Antigonish is in grave danger of never recovering.
As the province has supported millions of dollars in relief through different programs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Reema Fuller, Festival Antigonish’s managing director, indicated provincially, they haven’t received any of that help.
“We lost our overnight revenue, close to 80 per cent, once the theatres were shut down,” Fuller told The Reporter. “And without emergency help to recover from those kinds of losses and try to figure out how to re-open, we’re left with a lot of questions and uncertainty.”
Being a professional arts company, Festival Antigonish receives some operating funding from the government, however, she said that funding is only 13 per cent of their whole budget of $500,000.
To compensate their operating costs, the organization relies on small project grants, but the bulk of it comes from ticket sales, concession sales, acting classes, workshops, camps for youth, and sponsorships.
“In the absence of all those activities, we’re really left with no possibility of earning money in anyway,” Fuller said. “And on top of that, we’re a non-profit organization and fundraising has taken a big dip because everyone is dealing with the pandemic and everyone’s hit by it.”
In a typical summer season, the theatre will have close to 30 artists who come from across Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada to work on the summer season but all of those seasonal contracts were cancelled for the summer.
Fuller said Antigonish is blessed to have such a vibrant, cultural community and economy.
“But that’s the sector that has been hit in many ways the hardest and the fastest with the pandemic,” she said. “Because we can’t re-open overnight; re-opening for a theatre isn’t simply a matter of opening the doors and turning on the lights.”
It requires months of preparation to produce a show, to contract the artists, to build sets and Fuller indicated that type of work cannot be accomplished without some type of stability. At this point, it’s unclear as to what next year’s cultural community in Antigonish will look like.
“We’re a small, rural theatre – we sell about 7,000 tickets each summer so that’s a lot of people who come and see a show at the theatre,” Fuller said. “And that’s a lot of people who will miss that experience if we’re not in a position to create it in a way that’s financially feasible.”
The bottom line is, as a sector, they need financial assistance in the means of emergency help.
Festival Antigonish’s artistic director, Andrea Boyd advised that like all of the theatre companies, they’re trying to pivot to different methods of creating theatre, staying engaged in the community, hiring artists, and staying relevant, in the wake of their cancelled seasons.
“We’re working really hard to keep things moving forward,” Boyd said. “But without this emergency funding moving forward in any ways of creating live theatre would be really, really challenging.”
In partnership with 98.9 XFM, they hosted an original radio play that aired from September 9 to October 14 as a six-part weekly series with episodes that were 10-15 minutes long.
“This is another perfect example of why emergency funding is needed,” Fuller said. “Radio theatre costs money to produce but it doesn’t earn any money – because there are no ticket sales.”
Additionally, because the way the Bauer Theatre is designed, with current public health regulations to keep everyone safe, Festival Antigonish would be required to operate at a reduced capacity.
“There is really no viable business model to produce a show when you can only cap your show at 25 per cent,” Fuller added. “We’re now trying to find different ways to stay engaged in the community until we know what our big plans are.”