Stage rental costs too much to bear for Shakespearean festival

The City of Red Deer helped make possible the first season of the Bard on Bower by not charging for use of the outdoor stage in 2010, but wasn’t prepared to waive costs for the second season.

The City of Red Deer helped make possible the first season of the Bard on Bower by not charging for use of the outdoor stage in 2010, but wasn’t prepared to waive costs for the second season.

Culture superintendent Kristina Oberg said organizers of the outdoor Shakespearean festival that was cancelled earlier this week were told last year what the cost would be for using the outdoor stage at Bower Ponds over three weeks this summer.

Most of the expense, she explained, is tied to having a city staff person open the Bower Ponds pavilion for access to public washrooms and having another city worker present while the outdoor stage is in use for safety and liability reasons.

Prime Stock Theatre organizers were also told about financing possibilities, such as applying for the city’s fee-for-service grant. But the non-profit group never applied for it, said Oberg, although the group later cited a financial shortfall as the main reason it was cancelling its 2011 season.

Oberg said she hopes, with another year of lead time, the company will be able to mount Taming of the Shrew and MacBeth at Bower Ponds in 2012.

That’s the plan, according to artistic director Thomas Usher. Prime Stock Theatre is embarking on more fundraising and sponsorship drives in order to raise the $7,000 required to rent the outdoor stage next summer.

“I didn’t want this to be an us-against-them issue,” said Usher, who praised the city for being willing to negotiate the price down $2,000 from the original estimate of $9,000 — primarily by working with the group to reduce the amount of stage hours needed.

But Usher believes a contingency should be built into the city’s operations budget to help groups who can’t afford to rent the facility over the longer term.

“Unfortunately, that space is going to sit empty this summer — a space the city has put so much effort into building and maintaining” for the public’s enjoyment, he said.

Even with some business sponsorships, Prime Stock Theatre was only able to afford about half the $7,000, said Usher, who would like the city to recognize that the cost of longer term rentals is difficult for non-profit groups to bear.

While the fee-for-service grant was available, Usher said he had a moralistic problem with taking city grant money to pay the city. “I think that money should go towards helping artists with their production fees. It should go towards helping artists.”

Usher will be looking into other grant possibilities and getting more sponsorships and donations.

The Bard at Bower will also likely have a beer garden next year, as Usher had belatedly received approval to operate one this summer, hearing about it only a few days after the cancellation was announced.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com