The Anne Shirley Theatre Company (ASTC) began putting on shows in 2001. Their first production, and the reason for their name, was the musical version of Anne of Green Gables. Initially performing twice over the course of a weekend at Otonabee College’s Wenjack theatre, the group operated for about a decade without funding until applying to receive a levy.
“We contribute to the Trent and Peterborough arts scene with inclusive theatre productions for members of both communities,” said current ASTC President Ed Sweeney. That means giving people a chance “to be a part of [the community] as actors, on the production team, or by coming to watch for a reasonable price.”
Still being run solely by volunteers, the group’s entire budget goes toward putting on their events. With levy funding, ASTC was able to move its shows into much more suitable venues (Wenjack is designed for lectures, after all). The shows are now usually held downtown at the larger Market Hall, providing a more professional experience. ASTC’s largest expense is the fees for the rights to perform the shows they put on. These can range from a couple of thousand dollars for older or lesser-known works, to triple the price for newer and more popular ones, including works from Broadway. With the coming season’s budget undetermined, the group has been looking at putting on a production of a student-penned musical, which, while far more economical, will undoubtedly draw smaller crowds due to its smaller fanbase. After paying for the right to perform, sets and costumes eat up the remainder of the budget, followed by infrequent investments in technical equipment (such as purchasing new microphones for the upcoming season). A fraction goes towards decorations and event catering, with any remainder being saved for the following year’s operations.
In addition to its musical, the levy has allowed ASTC to also produce a non-musical play, as well as at least three additional events: one Open Mic Night per term and a “Trent’s Got Talent”-type event. These informal events allow “community members and Trent students to just come in and do their own act,” says Sweeney, encouraging wider participation than the committal nature of a rehearsed group performance may provide. The group’s offerings extend beyond people wanting to make musical theatre, either on stage or backstage. For those more comfortable sitting in the audience, ASTC provides an accessible entertainment opportunity. Unlike many other groups, you can take part without necessarily “taking part.”
You might see a lot more promotion for ASTC’s productions this year, with the money saved on licensing rights for bigger productions leading to fewer crowds. The volunteers may up their advertising efforts in order to counteract the anticipated drop in audience attendance. But as they say in show business, the show must go on.
“If we lose 90 percent of our budget, we’ll do it on the street! Even if we don’t have a big fancy theatre, sets, or costumes, that’s okay,” said a hopeful Sweeney. “Getting people to come to our shows is what’s important, our budget will only affect how it looks. We can use two chairs beside each other as a car; that’s what acting is.”