P.E.I. theatre community looks beyond Anne and the summer season

Island actors, producers, technicians and administrators gathered in Charlottetown Thursday for a theatre summit with the hopes of generating ideas on how to stimulate growth and diversity in the theatre industry.

Industry hopes to create jobs in the province year-round

Those involved in the theatre industry are hoping to find ways to make it sustainable year-round on P.E.I. (Louise Vessey)

There's more to P.E.I. than lobsters, golf and potatoes — and Anne.

There's also theatre, and members of the Island's theatre community would like to see live performance grow as a tourism draw.

Actors, producers, technicians and administrators gathered in Charlottetown Thursday for a theatre summit to generate ideas on how to stimulate growth and diversity in the industry.

"There's a lot of people working in individual silos," said Catherine O'Brien, an actor, director and producer of theatre who helped organize the event.

"It was a great opportunity to bring everybody together and start the conversation."

Catherine O'Brien, an actor, director and producer of theatre, says educating kids about the importance of the arts is key to driving engagement. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

The event was hosted by Creative PEI. One of the main topics of conversation: how to keep those in the theatre community busy — and making money — year-round.

Tough to get by in winter

Jeana MacIsaac has regular employment from April to October every year, as a stage manager with the annual Anne & Gilbert production, but said the winter months can be hard on those in the theatre industry, who either leave the province for work elsewhere, or stay with not much to do, and little to no pay.

Jeana MacIsaac, a stage manager for Anne and Gilbert, says she has steady work from April to October, but the winter months mean little to no work. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

It's not just about making enough money to live on, she said, it's about creating opportunities for creativity year-round.

"If we could find a way to have the artists feel a little bit more secure and not have to go away in the wintertime, I think we would see even more growth in the industry," MacIsaac said.

She believes the key to growing theatre audiences is fostering a love and appreciation for live theatre from an early age.

A group of Island actors, producers, technicians and administrators gathered in Charlottetown on Thursday to discuss ways to improve the theatre industry on P.E.I. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"A child that plays hockey, they might not grow up to play in the NHL, but they are going to go and watch the Islanders," she said.

Education key

O'Brien agrees, and said early education and introduction to theatre was a priority for many people in the room.

"A lot of people feel that if we start educating kids early on about the importance of arts and culture in general, but also theatre, and helping them to appreciate it, they'll become supporters of theatre and lovers of theatre as they get older," she said.

Performer Katrina Lewis says those in the industry need to share resources in order to grow. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Another priority that came out of the meeting was the creation of a central online hub where members of the theatre community can connect and share resources. Performer Katrina Lewis, with the Island Stilt Alliance, said that's one way to help the industry continue to grow.

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