Financial struggles impacting southern Alberta performing arts groups

Click to play video: 'Performing arts groups facing financial difficulties in southern Alberta'
Performing arts groups facing financial difficulties in southern Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: It’s been a tricky few years for performing arts groups in Lethbridge. After a longstanding community theatre group launched an urgent fundraising campaign earlier this month, others said they’re also feeling the pinch. Eloise Therien has more. – Nov 29, 2022

On Nov. 17, a longstanding community theatre organization in southern Alberta launched an urgent fundraising campaign after it said it overestimated audience appetite for recent shows.

According to its website, New West Theatre is in need of $150,000 to help save its operations.

The organization has been running for more than three decades, but explained the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent recovery during difficult economic times has left it reeling.

“Donations received will go towards various expenses, including salaries, rent, utilities and day-to-day operations,” New West Theatre said.

Others aren’t immune to recent financial issues either.

“I wish I could say it was a surprise, but we have also as a company been struggling financially to keep things afloat,” said Deonie Hudson, the interim artistic director of Theatre Outré.

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“As somebody working as an artist in the company, (I’m) really grateful for the support we’ve seen so far,” said director Grahame Renyk.

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Renyk, who also teaches at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., is directing New West Theatre’s upcoming musical revue show Blockbuster, which he hopes will appeal to a broad audience.

The show features well-known songs and sketch comedy.

“Going forward, it’s how to… keep serving the community in ways they’re familiar with, like we will be doing with Blockbuster,” Renyk said.

Click to play video: 'A Christmas Carol celebrates 24 years at the Citadel Theatre'
A Christmas Carol celebrates 24 years at the Citadel Theatre

Theatre Outré, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary as Alberta’s only queer theatre company, filled about half its seats for a recent holiday production.

“Audiences aren’t coming out the way that they did before COVID, and COVID is still a thing,” said Hudson, adding she doesn’t want to put all the pressure on the attendees — inflation is steering people away from spending money on tickets.

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“There’s also been a dry-up in the funding and grants that are available for performers.”

When it comes to music, the Lethbridge Symphony Orchestra has been seeing “steady” support, but said it could still use more.

“That’s what I’m hearing from all across the country,” said executive director Vicki Hegedus.

“From B.C. to Halifax and Fredericton… orchestras across the country are being challenged financially.”

Renyk hopes students and other prospective performers don’t shy away from the industry.

“I think it’s a really exciting time actually to get into the industry, because there are more pathways into it — you just (have to) be a little creative about it,” he said.

“People are innovating new forms and new ways into the industry that are also transforming the existing theatres.”

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