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  • Joe Szekeres

"WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH COMMUNITY THEATRE FOLKS?"

PROFILE OF ANNE CURRIE-O'BRIEN, PRESIDENT OF ACT-CO

  • Information compiled by Joe Szekeres, Supervisory Toronto Columnist for On Stage Blog

I was quite pleased when Anne accepted the invitation to be part of this profile series on “What’s Happening with Community Theatres?”.


The Association of Community Theatres (ACT-CO) does have quite a bit of work ahead of itself not only in how all member groups can continue safely, but also addressing viable concerns from the protests. You’ll see from Anne’s responses that weekly meetings have been on going which is a bonus. I’m sure that in light of the protests occurring in Toronto and across our nation and the US, ACT-CO must also examine what’s going on here to ensure equitable and fair representation for everyone in moving forward.


How has ACT-CO been faring with this never-ending threat of COVID-19? ACT-CO has been facilitating weekly meetings with its 35 member groups to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on our groups. The Oversight Committee includes members of all groups. This committee meets every three weeks and participants are given updates on actions taken by the Working Committee. The Working Committee meets weekly. One of its first tasks was to create an Impact Analysis spreadsheet for each theatre group so that we had data outlining the impact of COVID-19. This data was summarized and has been shared with the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments. ACT-CO took the lead on reaching out to the other regions in Ontario (EODL, WODL, QUONTA and SPARC). The spreadsheet was shared with the presidents of each organization so that they were able to summarize the impact of COVID-19 on their community theatres in a consistent format. ACT-CO invited Tim Jennings (Executive Director of Shaw Festival) and Thom Currie (Artistic Director of Magnus Theatre) to attend a meeting so that we could understand the actions that professional theatres are taking. Shaw Festival is one of the largest professional theatres in Canada, while Magnus Theatre is a regional theatre in Thunder Bay. Thom Currie is familiar with ACT-CO as he has adjudicated for our Festival multiple times. The insight we received from Tim and Thom was shared with the other regions.


What has been the most difficult and challenging for ACT-CO during this time? COVID-19 has presented ACT-CO with a unique opportunity to reach out to our member groups and for the groups to learn from each other. Some of our groups own their theatre, while others are in municipal facilities. The impact is different for each and the re-opening plans will also be different. There has been tremendous sharing of information and providing insight. Two groups made the difficult decision to permanently close their theatre, while others are postponing their 2020-21 season to 2021-22.

ACT-CO was obviously aware of what was transpiring with its 35-member group before everything was shut down. What has become of those projects of member groups that had not opened yet? Will they see the light of day anytime soon? Some groups had shows mid-run and they were locked out of the theatre. To-date, they have not been able to access the theatre, so their set is still intact. Many groups are planning to mount their shows when the order is lifted allowing live theatre to reopen. One of the key points shared by Tim and Thom was to plan for various reopening scenarios and then change the plans as dates change.


Besides your day work/job/profession, what have you, Anne, been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? I am retired, so COVID-19 has given me the opportunity to do some reorganizing – doing those things you talk about but never get around to. I research my family history and I have had more time do this. I serve on three other volunteer boards, so I keep myself busy. I look after my 2 year-old grandson twice per week. He makes me laugh, especially when he told me that “Nanny has crazy hair.” That’s now been fixed.


At least two Toronto based community/amateur theatres that I know have shuttered their doors on account of this pandemic. I recently saw online that some people are asking, as birthday gifts, donations to help keep their theatre groups afloat. Can you impart any words of wisdom or sage advice to the amateur theatre groups in the GTA about the future as there is a very high possibility they may be closed until at least spring 2021? I think that your timeline may be a bit optimistic (spring 2021). ACT-CO has reduced the financial strain on the groups by waiving membership fees for 2020-21. We will be offering workshops and other educational opportunities. We know that we deliver a successful Festival and Gala. This is giving us an opportunity to do more for our groups.


We recognize that there is strength in numbers, so approaching the various levels of government as a single group may garner better results than 35 separate groups requesting assistance. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19 and the protests? Will this positive light somehow impact community/amateur theatre groups moving forward? Zoom has been a wonderful tool for ACT-CO. We talked for three years about meeting virtually, to reduce wear and tear for board members to get to meetings. The pandemic helped us achieve that.


The added bonus of ongoing discussions with the theatre groups cannot be minimized. Seeing the sharing of information, consequently learning that happens among the groups, is wonderful.


Despite all this fraught tension and confusion of the pandemic along with the protests, what is it about the arts that can never be destroyed for you? Community theatre is an inclusive world. It is where many professional actors and designers have their first opportunity to try it out. It is where youth members develop confidence and self-assurance, key skills as they move through their schooling to their working life.


With a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests:


1. What is your favourite word? Kindness

2. What is your least favourite word? Pythagorean Theorem

3. What turns you on? Conversation with friends

4. What turns you off? Self-Centredness

5. What sound or noise do you love? Children’s laughter

6. What sound or noise bothers you? Barking dogs

7. What is your favourite curse word? Dang What is your least favourite curse word? F-Bomb

8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing? Teaching adults.

9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing? Teaching children or teenagers

10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “You have family and friends who are waiting to talk to you.”

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