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Live theatre struggles: Financial picture grim at both STC and Theatre Cambrian

Low ticket sales, financial troubles aside, companies are still passionate about entertaining Sudbury

The financial picture remains grim for both of Sudbury's major English-language theatre companies as they enter their respective 2017-18 seasons.

Officials with both Sudbury Theatre Centre and Theatre Cambrian say they're working hard to get back on a better financial footing.

But there is something average Sudburians can do to help keep our beloved theatre companies open — buy tickets to their upcoming productions.

“Million Dollar Quartet” opens at Sudbury Theatre Centre Sept. 28 and runs until Oct. 15. At Theatre Cambrian, “The Wizard of Oz” opens Oct. 5 and runs until Oct. 21.

“We're just hoping people will respond and buy the tickets and sell the place out,” said Gerry Copeman, president of Sudbury Theatre Centre's board of directors.

And over at Theatre Cambrian, as board vice-president Rod Bazinet deals with creditors, he's tried to shield the cast and crew from the situation. But the reality is, the company desperately needs money from ticket sales.

“Luckily we have 'The Wizard of Oz' coming up, which is a great, great family show,” Bazinet said.

“I've kept the cast and the crew of the show kind of separated from the stress of the business.

“I've said 'You guys develop and produce the best show you've ever produced,' and they are. The energy is crazy.”

If you happen to be independently wealthy or own a business, and can throw some funds their way through sponsorship or other opportunities, Sudbury Theatre Centre and Theatre Cambrian wouldn't say no to that either.

To say the last few months have been tumultuous at Theatre Cambrian is something of an understatement.

Bazinet said he returned to the amateur theatre company's board in May after two years away when he got wind of its financial troubles, because he wanted to help.

“There was some mismanagement,” he said, adding Theatre Cambrian's operations are such that if they sell 40 per cent of their tickets, they should be able to pay their bills.

But Bazinet is quick to stress the 60-year-old former church Theatre Cambrian operates out of is a “money pit” that has required many renovations.

A fundraiser he arranged this summer raised $11,000. 

“I was so excited because we had money to get caught up on our bills,” he said. “We had money to pay down our rights. We had enough money to carry us through into October.”

But unbeknownst to Bazinet, no money was going to Canada Revenue Agency even after he set up a payment plan — it went to other outstanding bills.

“What ended up happening was Canada Revenue Agency called the bill,” he said. 

“That means whatever money I had raised and accumulated, which was around $11,000 — a nice nest egg for the theatre —completely got pulled out to that debt. So we were completely broke.”

Then executive director Dennis Cropper suddenly went on leave. He's only been a staffer with the company since January, after Theatre Cambrian parted ways with former executive director Mark Mannisto in November.

So Bazinet and the rest of the Theatre Cambrian have become a working board, phoning creditors and finding sponsors for October's production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I'm hoping we're out of the darkest point and we can start paying some bills in October,” he said.

“We're not at a point where we're closing our doors, but it's definitely not a day where we can say 'OK, everybody's paid and we're good to go.'

“Most of the day is spent calling people we owe money and begging and pleading and saying 'Could you give us 60 days?'”

By the way, what Theatre Cambrian owes is not unattainable. Bazinet said $30,000 would put the company back in the black. Even with its mortgage, it only owes about $350,000.

“It's a cash flow problem,” said Bazinet, who said he's already planning another fundraiser to pay off some of the company's debt.

Over at Sudbury Theatre Centre, the city's professional English-language professional theatre company, it was revealed in June that STC was around $400,000 in debt due to a string of losses over the past three seasons.

STC is now working with a consultant specializing in theatre companies' finances. The Greater Sudbury Development Corporation is paying for this consultant.

“He's successfully turned around three out of four that he's worked for,” said Copeman. “We have high hopes.”

STC has also received its Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts grants, but those funds can only be used for the upcoming season, said Copeman.

“We can't take that money and pay off bills from last season,” he said. “What we have had though are some people to whom we owe money saying to us 'Don't worry about it. We're not in any hurry.'”

While strong ticket sales are essential, it costs more than $1 million per year to operate STC, so the company is also looking for corporate sponsorship, Copeman said. 

“I don't think I can tell you much more than that in terms of saying we've saved the place,” he said. “But we certainly are not putting it up for sale nor are we buying a tombstone. I think we're going to be OK.”


Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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