CAT claws back from the brink

While down one of its nine lives, CAT is surviving to mount future theatre seasons.

While down one of its nine lives, CAT is surviving to mount future theatre seasons.

Central Alberta Theatre was given a reprieve from bankruptcy when the majority of its creditors accepted a proposal for partial repayment of the $800,000 owed them. “We’ve been given the green light by creditors,” said the group’s president Paolo Mancuso. who added this is great news for CAT, as well as Red Deer’s theatre scene.

The 43-year-old community theatre group will soon be launching it’s 2013-14 season of plays, which promises more diversity and possibly some novel dinner/theatre options.

The “overwhelming” majority of creditors accepted the non-profit’s five-year repayment plan, added Mancuso, because they felt it was better to receive some money than no repayment, if the group went bankrupt. “And I think (they accepted) because they believe in keeping theatre alive in Central Alberta, too.”

He said CAT’s new business plan, looking ahead five years, received the “blessing” of the City of Red Deer and Alberta Culture, which means CAT can once again apply for government grants.

The first order of business will be hiring a new operations director and beefing up paid hours for two technical staffers.

Hiring permanent staff is important because, besides staging plays, the theatre group also manages and takes bookings for Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.

The non-profit has been surviving primarily on volunteer labour for the past year and a half, in the wake of staff layoffs, due to a major cost overrun in the renovations of City Centre Stage in downtown Red Deer. Mancuso said he has personally put in about 1,200 hours to keep CAT afloat.

In hiring an operations director, CAT has adopted a best practices model for arts and culture management, created by Grant MacEwan University students. The new model will affect the parameters of the director’s job and the qualifications expected in a successful candidate, said Mancuso.

“It’s changing the culture in how theatre companies operate,” moving towards a more sustainable business-like model.

He noted the City of Red Deer has granted CAT a yet unspecified amount of money for augmenting the operations director’s salary for the first year.

The conversion of the former movie theatre to City Centre Stage, a live theatre, proved disastrous for CAT, which had to bow out of a long-term monthly lease to the building’s owners. The renovated structure was later sold to Red Deer College.

Mancuso said he plans to discuss with the college whether CAT can use City Centre Stage for some productions, or even form a partnership with RDC Hospitality students in catering a few dinner theatres there.

CAT’s other options are continuing to stage plays in the small Nickle Studio or the much larger Memorial Centre. As these spaces are not adequate for dinner theatres, Mancuso said he’s examining possible partnerships with Red Deer restaurants to serve patrons meals on their premises as part of a dinner/theatre package.

He also intends to approach some Red Deer hotels to see if they are interested in hosting occasional dinner theatres. Mancuso said CAT is not interested in getting into another long-term hotel partnership for entire dinner theatre seasons, as the group previously had with the Black Knight Inn. He said this would be just for special, limited-run productions.

CAT’s play selection committee is pulling together the new fall-winter season, which is expected to be revealed in May. Mancuso believes the plays selected will vary to appeal to a wider demographic.

While CAT has survived its financial crisis, he noted the group is still looking for ways to appeal to younger members and to assist new, up-and-coming Red Deer theatre groups.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com