PEI

How not doing Anne of Green Gables opens new artistic possibilities for the Charlottetown Festival

Anne of Green Gables — The Musical, the centrepiece of the Charlottetown Festival for more than 50 years, will be produced only every other year from now on, with no production next year.

Beloved musical will play at Confederation Centre mainstage only every 2 years

Kelsey Verzotti as Anne in the 2022 Charlottetown Festival production of Anne of Green Gables — The Musical, with Blaire Dudley and Hanaye Ono. (Louise Vessey/Charlottetown Festival)

Anne of Green Gables — The Musical, the centrepiece of the Charlottetown Festival for more than 50 years, will be produced only every other year from now on, with no production next year.

Confederation Centre of the Arts made the announcement Thursday morning.

The production based on the young heroine of Lucy Maud Montgomery's beloved novels is the world record holder for the longest-running musical running seasonally.

It was staged every summer at the festival from 1965 to 2019, but the string was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic. After a two-year hiatus, it returned to the Confederation Centre in 2022.

Charlottetown Festival artistic director Adam Brazier said the pandemic provided time for a reimagining.

"It forced us to look inward," said Brazier.

"What is our purpose as an arts centre? What is our purpose as a not-for-profit charitable arts organization, and what is our responsibility within that?"

The conclusion was the centre needs to sponsor more new work, and Anne, to a degree, was holding that back, and not just because it was taking up a slot on the mainstage every summer.

While Anne of Green Gables — the Musical is a masterpiece of its time, said Brazier, it has limited the kinds of shows the festival can present. Confederation Centre hires a company of 27 actors, plus crew and musicians, and any other show the festival presents has to work with that group.

"Every show we've done goes through Avonlea, and some shows don't go through Avonlea well," said Brazier.

"Part of the creativity of being artistic director here, and all of my predecessors as well, is to create or find pieces that can go through Avonlea."

The creators of new musicals don't write like they did in the 1960s, he said, which means presenting those musicals sometimes requires a different kind of company.

New Canadian works

Ticket sales were not a factor in the decision making, said Confederation Centre CEO Steve Bellamy.

As an annual production, ticket sales for Anne sometimes lagged, though it did well in 2022.

"The core change here is making space for new shows, new work, and new voices. That's the core idea here. That's what's behind this," Bellamy said.

"It's important that an institution like this is contributing to the creation of new Canadian work on an ongoing basis and this is the way to do it."

As a charitable arts organization, ticket sales are just one source of revenue for the centre, he said. Money also comes in from government, donors and corporate sponsors. Ticket sales cover about one third of the cost of the shows they do, and Anne is no exception. This decision is part of meeting the centre's responsibilities to those other contributors.

The headline show for 2023 will be the world premiere of a new Canadian musical. Brazier said his plan is to continue that pattern, with Anne headlining one year and a world premiere headlining the next.

Anne on other stages

When there is no production of Anne at the Charlottetown arts centre in alternate years, the rights will be available for other productions, schools and non-professional community groups, under the terms of a renegotiated rights agreement.

Brazier said he believes the opening of productions for schools and community theatres will increase interest in the show.

"This allows youth an opportunity to explore this incredible masterpiece," said Brazier.

"This, I believe, will bring the next generation into the story again."

Charlottetown Festival artistic director Adam Brazier
Adam Brazier is looking forward to working with creators across Canada to create new musicals. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Kelly Harron, the daughter of the musical's co-creator, Don Harron, is excited about opening up opportunities for new companies to present the show.

"The pandemic gave us the chance to imagine how we can share the magic of Anne and Avonlea," said Harron in a news release.

"Making the musical more accessible will help inspire a new generation of theatre performers and patrons," 

The show will next be staged at the Charlottetown mainstage in 2024, which coincides with Montgomery's birth 150 years earlier, in 1874.

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