Time for C-K to address its theatre dilemma

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capitol interior 2

Since the idea to refurbish the Capitol Theatre came to Chatham-Kent council, let’s be honest – it has caused high blood pressure for the people struggling to make it viable, the municipality left holding the bag and those taxpayers vehemently opposed to paying any part of the upkeep.

In defense of the municipality, staff has made every effort to find another entity to run the Capitol, notably St. Clair College. The college, and an incredibly hard-working Lesley Grand, has worked hard to bring a variety of shows to the venue, while providing students with an impressive theatre learning experience. But that is coming to an end because losing $300,000 per year just isn’t viable for the college.

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So why, since 2010, has the Capitol Theatre failed to thrive, or at least pay for itself?

As a mostly agricultural-based economy since well-paying manufacturing jobs moved out of the area, some would argue your average Chatham-Kent resident can’t afford the ticket prices for shows. And many wonder where all the people are who supported the theatre and insisted it would bring income from far and wide.

The question has been also been raised many times if Chatham really needs to have two theatre venues supported, in part, by municipal tax dollars.

The problem, as I see it, lies in all those concerns. The cost of renting the Capitol theatre by local groups is out of reach, tickets prices for your average person are too high, and the Cultural Centre theatre is a smaller, less expensive option for non-profit groups, school boards, dance studios, theatre groups and the community at large. But it needs work – better sound system, bigger more comfortable seats – and that costs money. The Capitol already has what groups need to put on an amazing show.

The Capitol has 755 orchestra seats and 455 in the balcony for a total of 1,210 seats. Many groups think that venue is too big for smaller productions, but if you close the balcony, it has less than 100 seats more than the Kiwanis Theatre (679 seats), with the advantage of an orchestra pit.

We have the Capitol, we have put the money in, it’s a beautiful venue – why not use it? Why not move all theatre-related business to the Capitol and turn the Kiwanis Theatre into more art and museum space, and partner with school boards for arts programming? The Kiwanis have done a fantastic job with the theatre since 1963 and I have enjoyed many shows, dance recitals, music acts and comedians in those seats. But it’s time for a courageous change.

Treat the Capitol like we do our arenas, swimming pools, museums and other publically funded venues that offer a wide variety of experiences to Chatham-Kent citizens. Lower the prices for community groups to rent it, and have a variety of shows to meet all price points. More use and more butts in seats is better than letting a beautiful theatre go to waste because people can’t afford to go. Make it a community hub – a gathering place.

Have an army of volunteers who would be happy to work the box office, usher, host tours and whatever else creative minds can come up with, such as a local summer theatre program that appeals to tourists. Resolve the parking issues downtown so more people would be drawn there which benefits our business core.

It’s time to think outside the box and puts a lot of pressure on Bob Crawford’s shoulders as the general manager of community development, but I think he’s up for the job. Who’s with me?

17 COMMENTS

  1. go talk to Bob Fox……who had a "vision" for the Capitol before he "retired"…….this community has a huge opportunity to be the premier Afro-Canadian heritage site in Canada…if we could get Uncle Tom's Cabin, North Buxton National Historic Site, and the many rich cultural locations in Chatham to work diligently together, we could create this and, I think, attract a great many tourists and academics…..then, the Capitol could feature Afro-Canadian/American performers and entertainment May-September and fill the theatre with out-of-town guests…..this could happen…..then, in November and December, there should be a huge Dicken's festival in the community with plays like Oliver, A Christmas Carol and more at both the Capitol and the Kiwanis….we have a great Charles Dickens' connection in Chatham-Kent……these are doable things and things Bob Fox could see in his vision for the theatre……it's the only way it's gonna work, people…..we need some vision here…..

  2. The Capitol is a real jewel in the downtown. I have aways seen the Capitol primarily as a community resource for C Kent. I agree all programing should shift to the Capitol. The theatre was not only renovated but made too large. This is not Branson, Missouri! We are going to have to live with the theatre being half full. Let's get over this. I saw Quartette including Sylvia Tyson perform there a few years ago in January. It was so amazing to listen to such top performers in such a lovely theatre. But it was half full. Let's get over this. It also has to be run and come in on budget with no deficits. Let's support & enjoy our community resource. We must put the mistakes of the past behind us. We have to afford what makes our community better! There however can be no operating deficits as there is also one at the Bradey Centre.

  3. Lots of exterior walls to sell advertising space , The back wall of the( not needed 10 mill. $ swing stage ) would sell out for advertising bill boards , and the huge side wall . better a Billboard, than a Money Pit !

  4. turn it into a parking lot and be done with it. st clair college had the resources and still couldnt make a go of it, the last thing i trust is administration to do the job. this theatre is going on 7 years old, anyone think of the upkeep that will be required in a few years time? lets face facts, CK is NOT an artsy community, certainly not enough to maintain such a facility anyway. the numbers dont lie. an operating deficit of $300,000 by an entity committed to making it viable simply proves its not worth the financial resources that is needed.

  5. One thing that is being overlooked and which is critical to this ongoing discussion, especially to the community groups and smaller independent production companies is that a 1, 200 seat theatre is considered a professional performing arts venue. Meaning theatrical rights and licensing fees for shows or productions staged there are charged at a much higher rate than for community theatre such as the Kiwanis. This would make it cost prohibitive for any non-professional performing arts group. That’s why the City Of Cambridge with a population of approximately 120,000 and a catchment area that includes Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and Brantford decided to build (Dunfield Theatre) a state of the art 500 seat theatre. It has a fly tower and is accommodating to both professional and community groups alike. It provides everything our Capitol Theatre does but on a smaller cost effective scale. It may not be as fancy as the Capitol, but then again it’s not bleeding money.

  6. If the Petrolia Playhouse can run successfully year after year, in a small community, why can't Chatham? People come fom far & wide to see the entertainment in Petrolia, bus loads almost every performance. Maybe they should be contacted to find out how to make a go of it. Or is that too embarrassing…having to ask for advice?

  7. Generally speaking, theatres do not make money – not in Chatham-Kent, or anywhere else. They are a community resource just like an arena, pool, library, soccer field, etc. None of which pay for themselves and almost always run at a deficit. Their value lies not specifically in the balance sheet, but in the contribution to our quality of life. I respectfully disagree with Mary Beth's position to consolidate everything at the Capitol, although I suspect that the decision to do so has essentially already been made. This was the same decision that was essentially put on hold in 2011 when this was tackled the first time – "idle" the Kiwanis and invest in the Capitol. Unfortunately, there was never a consensus on what "idle" actually meant, so gradually the Kiwanis Theatre has been ignored in dribs and drabs until we are faced with the scenario today. If closure is the option (which hopefully will be discussed in open session at Council so the community has a chance to have their say, and stay informed), there needs to be some consideration of what happens to the users of Kiwanis Theatre. There could be options, like keeping rates the same, perhaps some reconfiguration of the stage for smaller shows, etc. But it needs to be done with the stakeholders and those with experience in theatre operations. David's point below is also valid – we are lucky to have an incredible number of talented community theatre groups across Chatham-Kent, especially for a community our size. And they pay for the rights to their plays based on seat number – a 1200 seat theatre could put the cost of those rights almost entirely out of reach, and therefore leave these groups with very few options. I can also appreciate that there are limited budget dollars to go around, municipal budget deliberations are about to begin and there will be many demands for those resources across the spectrum, the majority of which entirely worthy of consideration. But let's not forget one key element that has seemed to go unmentioned in any of these discussions: the Kiwanis Theatre was also created thanks to the tireless efforts of community volunteers who banded together to save the old Chatham Vocational School (CVS) from destruction. This group, along with the very active and dedicated community service club in the Kiwanians (that still exists today) invested an incredible amount of time and money into that theatre for many decades. Most of these dedicated volunteers are no longer with us, but just because they banded together and saved our (at the time) only local theatre over 50 years ago, that does not make their contributions to our community any less worthy. Let's not forget that before turning out the lights at Kiwanis.

  8. Some how we have to make this Work,…there are the people to support this giving the right venue, we should contact the sources that make Petrolia and Stratford work.. this is a must have not a dream.

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