The Confederation Centre of the Arts says it has invested a sizeable amount of money — both from the Provincial Nominee Program and from its own coffers — into a musical that may never hit the stage.

CBC News recently submitted a provincial Freedom of Information request to uncover details about the show and how the centre used the PNP money.

The Confederation Centre formed two companies in 2008 to take advantage of PNP money. It received a net amount of about $250,000 through the program.

Of that, $37,000 was to tour Anne of Green Gables to Toronto. Evangeline, which successfully debuted at the centre's Charlottetown Festival last summer, received $83,000.

But $126,000, more than half the PNP money, was spent on developing a new show, Rivir, a science-fiction fantasy about two worlds that share a river.

The centre also spent $35,000 of its own money on the show's development.

And it paid a Calgary marketing firm $40,000 to solicit corporate investment.

Investors wanted completed script

Over 10 months in 2012, the Development Group pitched the concept to banks and energy companies in western Canada. They even shot a promotional video for Rivir, voiced by Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent.

Confederation Centre CEO Jessie Inman says there was some initial interest from investors, but "no one bit."

"We believed so strongly in this idea of this musical that we thought it would take hold and somebody would say, 'Yes, I want to be the first person behind this or the first company'. But unfortunately, that didn't happen," said Inman.

pe-si-confederation-inman

Confederation Centre CEO Jessie Inman says Rivir's themes of environmental and cultural sustainability are worth exploring. (Confederation Centre)

Inman says the problem was that investors wanted a completed script, not just a concept.

The centre did commission some songs from Canadian composer Marek Norman and a script from aboriginal playwright Drew Hayden Taylor. But Rivir "remains in the development stage and would require additional funding and workshopping to advance beyond this early phase," officials at the Centre say.

So Rivir is on hold indefinitely.

Inman says $160,000 was not a lot to spend on the project. New musicals can cost between $2 million to $15 million, and take years to produce. 

A love story

Developing new art is difficult and risky and a lot of the time it doesn't work, says Dave Auster, a producer with Ontario's Stratford Festival.

"Developing new musicals is really expensive, so that doesn't sound at all like a lot to me in the grand scheme of things," he said.

Producers at both the Canadian Stage Company and the National Arts Centre agree with Auster. And all say it is a struggle to develop new musicals in Canada.

Inman believes the themes of environmental and cultural sustainability in Rivir are worth exploring, and the Confederation Centre will do it if it can find the money in the future.

Centre CEO Jessie Inman says overall, however, the musical is a love story.

The Cotterans and the Celainors share a world called Kanata, although they are not aware of one another. The Cotterans live above the river, and the Celainors live below. When the river is threatened, they must work together towards a solution, forging a new world called Canada.

While the centre has continued to work on Rivir, when Evangeline came along, they saw it as a better investment.

Evangeline is now being tweaked to shorten it. Inman says audiences, although appreciative, found the musical too long.

The centre hopes to bring Evangeline back to the stage soon.

Corrections

  • The headline on this story initially read that $250K of funds went into the musical, it should have read $126K.
    Apr 29, 2014 11:21 AM AT