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Curtains close on 2007’s summer theatre

Financial constraints force Whistler Theatre Project to cancel season



By Alison Taylor

Organizers of the outdoor summer theatre project have pulled the plug on this year’s musical production The Fantasticks .

It was to be the second production for the Whistler Theatre Project (WTP), coming on the heels of last year’s successful A Midsummer Night’s Dream .

“We were faced with a financial situation that we felt was actually going to compromise the vision and the mandate that we set out with,” explained WTP creator Todd Talbot.

“We felt that with the resources we had… we would be in a difficult position to actually pull that off and if we didn’t we would actually have a show that would maybe hurt the future of the company in a way that we might not be able to recover from.”

The decision, which was made April 18 and made public this week, was not an easy one.

Talbot and co-founder Zaib Shaikh were not looking forward to the round of phone calls to actors, corporate sponsors and supporters in the wake of the tough decision. The response, however, took them by surprise as people maintained their support for the fledging non-profit organization.

“We were overwhelmed by the graciousness,” said Talbot.

In the weeks leading up to the cancellation, Sue Adams, a WTP supporter, tried to rally the local business community to the cause.

An e-mail in early April appealed to business leaders to meet a funding shortfall of $60,000. Adams, co-owner of The Grocery Store, said she would be likely increasing her financial contribution and in-kind support, as she looked to others to do the same.

“We feel so strongly that this is the right thing to do, not only for our community, but for the economic diversification of the resort and the competitive tourist experience,” she wrote.

The result was amazing. Several companies and individuals stepped up to the plate and managed to pull together roughly half of the funds needed in about two weeks.

Tourism Whistler also rallied to the cause and agreed to make a financial contribution, which is not something the organization typically does, in addition to its in-kind support.

“It’s a unique event because they program it for up to 45 days,” said Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher. “This event offers the opportunity to really promote the lion’s share of your summer.”

But organizers say it wasn’t a simple decision of raising the funds at the last minute.

“It came down to a time issue,” said Talbot. “The support was pouring in but we were running out of time in order to translate that into this particular season.”

The decision is a decided blow to Whistler’s burgeoning arts programming this year.

“I think it’s really too bad,” said Doti Niedermayer, executive director of the Whistler Arts Council. “It was a great addition to the summer arts programming. Its inauguration last year I thought was a wonderful start. I thought they did a great job. I was looking forward to the growth of the program.”

But she knows first-hand how hard it is to raise the funds and to get projects off the ground.

“This is a little bit of a setback but you know, it’s hard, it’s hard to bring in new programs,” said Niedermayer. “I think that’s just a reality. It costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of effort and it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Last year’s show drew close to 5,000 people over the course of a month to the intimate outdoor setting of Rebagliati Park.

The WTP society is not dissolved, assured organizers, and they are looking ahead to 2008.

Tourism Whistler has committed to maintain its support, both financially and in-kind.

“While we have a wealth of sport and recreation activities, this has just been an amazing addition to our arts and culture offering,” said Fisher. “We certainly… are disappointed for the short term but very comfortable and confident for the long term, for 2008 and beyond, if they’re able to successfully make a comeback, that it’s the right mix and it will be strong product offering for our summer customers.”