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Alberta Theatre Projects comes clean about the economic downturn

Cecilia Lu Mar 24, 2017 2:28 am 72

Alberta Theatre Projects is coming clean about the lasting effects of Calgary’s economic downturn. The mid-sized theatre company, known for Canadian stories with a focus on Alberta and Prairie history, has seen a sharp dip in funding over the past year.

Much as you’d expect in middle of a recession and slow recovery, it sucks for many of Calgary’s arts and culture organizations right now.

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The biggest hit to Alberta Theatre Projects’ bottom line is a 77% drop in corporate sponsorship which, along with individual donations, makes up a third of the company’s annual operating budget. In response, the ATP has has launched a $400,000 fundraising campaign in hopes of making up for the immediate shortfall.

Image: Vicki Stroich – Executive Director of Alberta Theatre Projects

Daily Hive spoke to Executive Director Vicki Stroich, about the current struggles of the organization and ATP’s new way forward, starting with its new slate of productions for the year.

The first thing to note is that the lack of corporate dollars won’t affect the company’s recently announced 2017/2018 season, aptly entitled Defy Expectations. Standouts to the lineup include The Last Wife, a smart and sexy House of Cards-esque political thriller, and Constellations, a reality-bending romances love story that will sure to make rom-com fans swoon.

Image: Constellations

There’s also a strong entry in next year’s High Performance Rodeo, co-presented with One Yellow Rabbit: former CBC broadcaster Tetsuro Shigematsu’s heartfelt Empire of the Sun.

Looking to the long term, the steep decline in corporate donations is a worrying trend, which is why Stroich and her staff made the decision for greater transparency. Much like many of the non-profit organisations of ATP’s size, the funding model is split into three main streams: public funding, earned revenue, and donations, both from corporations and individuals.

The downturn has meant a “lack of comfort” for funding the arts, claims Stroich. “A lot of [corporate donors] have stuck with us, but need to adjust what their commitment is and make difficult decisions in their companies.”

It’s clear that while the ATP isn’t abandoning its roots in Prairie history and Canadian content, this also marks a transitional period as the company strives to remain relevant. Stroich remarks on the company’s “playful and sharp way of seeing the world”, of looking at current events and how we make sense of it, from a Canadian perspective.

Image: Empire of the Sun

And it sounds like the public is responding positively to the transparent message. At time of writing, the campaign has raised approximately 75% of the total goal. What’s most rewarding to Stoich is the support of people from across the country, in the many communities that ATP has touched throughout its long history.

An underlying challenge for the company, moving forward, lies in how differently we consume media now—from the endless binging options on Netflix to our distracted, multi-tasking social media behaviours, our digital lives are quickly outpacing conventional theatre experiences.

In a world of too many options, careful curation of what, why, and how, will ensure our live theatre performances continue to remain relevant, for both Calgarians and all Canadians.

Cecilia Lu
Arts Editor at Daily Hive. Cecilia is a sucker for great indie theatre and anything really geeky. Lethal drink of choice: single malt whisky. cecilia[at]dailyhive[dot]com

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