Evie Koop Sawatzky
Most people don’t know the scope of what a professional theatre company does and why it needs support so I am going to lift the curtain, so to speak.
Granted, I have limited space to tell you, so what follows is by no means exhaustive. If you want to know more, just give me a call and we can have coffee — I am serious. Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t drink coffee, but tea is nice.
I could talk for days about the way theatre, dance and music impact the economy and lives. Two thirds of Canadians understand that theatre helps attract business and 80 per cent of Canadians understand that theatres, large and small, make communities more attractive to visitors (Nanos Research poll for PACT in 2014).
It’s not easy to run a registered charity. Much less a registered charity that is a professional theatre company in a community where philanthropic giving to professional performing arts is just in its infancy.
“Don’t you sell tickets? Don’t ticket sales cover the cost of a show?” people ask.
Ticket sales account for less than 50 per cent of the costs of running non-profit theatres in Canada. More and more it is necessary that relationships with volunteers, donors and sponsors are built to ensure that a community — especially a small community in Saskatchewan — has access to the work and cultural vibrancy of professional artists.
Eight out of 10 Canadians believe that theatre is important to making communities vibrant places to live.
We receive calls from people who have just moved to Moose Jaw looking for ways to get involved through lessons, attending shows or volunteerism. RuBarb has provided opportunities to summer student interns, high school work experience and newcomers to Canada. RuBarb JAM (Junior Ambassadors) performs at various events around the city and province sharing how they found acceptance, belonging and courage through musical theatre.
Most rural theatres exist in communities that cannot sustain a pool of artists, so most of the artists we work with must be brought in. Travel within communities is also challenging due to limited public transportation services. This results in travel requiring a larger percentage of our budgets and also demands a great deal of administrative time to organize.
You can imagine that a theatre in Toronto would not have the same travel expenses as a small theatre company in Moose Jaw.
Theatre production and administration require specific specialized skills, and those who have them tend to move to larger population bases to make a living. Finding these skills in rural communities is not always possible.
We are eager to keep our ticket prices accessible, but it is hard to compete with the ticket prices of organizations that have more than 30 full-time staff and receive large operational grants from the government. Smaller grants are typically for new initiatives, but it is difficult for a small organization to benefit from these grants and the strain of yet another new initiative when core funding needs are not being met.
For example, The Canada Council for the Arts gave $184.8 million to artists and arts organizations across Canada in 2016-17. Only $4.4 million made it to Saskatchewan and only $780,600 was given to professional theatre. $302,000 was awarded to the Globe Theatre; $196,000 was awarded to the Persephone Theatre; $110,200 was awarded to the Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin Theatre; $60,000 was awarded to Troupe du Jour. The recipients of this operational funding and the amounts were virtually unchanged from 2013.
Why am I sharing this? Because professional theatre will only survive in the smaller centres in Saskatchewan if the people get behind it and support it.
Moose Javians can own the success that RuBarb has had thus far — we made it this far together. We have enriched the community through the development and growth of cultural activities and events and are a leading contributor to the dramatic, musical and artistic standards of the region.
It might make more business sense for a professional theatre company to be in a city with hundreds of thousands of people, but we like Moose Jaw. We believe Moose Jaw and the surrounding area deserve to have accessible, high-quality theatre experiences and education.
What is it worth to you? Do you want to see professional theatre continue in Moose Jaw?
We, like other small-town theatre companies, want to build a lasting legacy of live theatre, providing performance and educational experiences for children to learn and develop their musical, theatrical and leadership skills for decades to come but we can’t do it on our own.