CAT deep in debt

Red Deer’s oldest community theatre company is more than $700,000 in debt and is calling for the public’s support to keep from folding.

Red Deer’s oldest community theatre company is more than $700,000 in debt and is calling for the public’s support to keep from folding.

Central Alberta Theatre’s business manager put out a press release on Thursday that confirms months of rumours about the group being on the financial edge, due to major cost over-runs in remodelling City Centre Stage theatre.

After pouring hundred of thousands of dollars into the downtown former movie-house-turned-live theatre, CAT, ironically, can no longer afford to use it.

“We’re behind on rent payments on the City Centre Stage, and as we can’t keep using something we’re not paying for, we’ve moved the new season of plays back to the Memorial Centre and CAT studios (which CAT has long operated) — for now,” said Randy Nicholls, CAT’s business manager.

CAT is still planning to put on six comedies this season.

Starting with Greater Tuna, which opens on Sept. 6. But space constrictions in the Memorial Centre means warm hors d’oeuvres will have to be served instead of sit-down meals before dinner theatre shows.

The non-profit society’s board hopes supporters will turn out in droves to purchase tickets for the shows to help support CAT. A big fundraiser is also planned for Sept. 8, with details to be announced.

“The worst case scenario is that we will no longer have a theatre society” — which after 42 years of having Central Alberta Theatre, “would be a real tragedy,” said CAT president Paolo Mancuso. He added, “We’re very determined not to let that happen.”

Besides going seriously over-budget on the downtown theatre renovation, CAT has had to cover the overhead costs of running two theatres (City Centre Stage and the Memorial Centre).

But since CAT’s newest board, which started on July 1st, immediately had to lay off staff, the Memorial Centre can only take limited bookings, which will impact revenues.

In a recent letter to CAT’s members, the board revealed the society, started in 1970, can’t afford to make all its monthly commitments.

Money is owed to builders, the bank, the City Centre Stage landlord, and a number of other creditors. The society has more than $700,000 in combined debts. A City of Red Deer loan of $40,000 towards a sprinkler system was paid back, however.

CAT’s board intends to meet this weekend to come up with a business plan to turn the situation around.

Lawrence Hobbs, CAT’s vice-president, said the province, city and other institutions want to be supportive with loans and grants, but need to see a sustainable business model first.

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling wants to see the group survive, saying CAT has been a great fiscal success for more than 40 years. “It’s very important to the community” and has been a great partner in operating the Memorial Centre, which is used by local and out-of-town performers, he added.

CAT not only provides entertainment, but also volunteering opportunities for many people. “They’re going to need a major city-wide effort to pull it together,” predicted Flewwelling. “But I believe the community will be supportive.”

Hobbs stressed that CAT needs big audiences this season to make the plays and fundraisers successful. “First (we need to) bring in funds for immediate needs and, secondly, to show everyone that Red Deer actually cares about keeping its last remaining adult theatre group alive.”

While Red Deer College continues to offer regular plays and musicals, many other local theatre groups have either folded (Ignition Theatre), offer only sporadic fare (Prime Stock Theatre), or have a reduced repertoire (Against the Wall Theatre started with some dramas but now solely offers on-going Bull Skit! comedy nights).

For more information about CAT’s upcoming season, please visit www.centralalbertatheatre.ca, or purchase tickets from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com