Having seen the Garage Door Players through 10 years of productions I have to say the theatre road is a difficult one to tread.
I have always considered my productions "professional"- not Community Theatre. Actors and crew get paid. No, we are not Equity. No, we do not receive grants- municipal or otherwise. Part of the reason for that is I have not officially claimed "non-profit" status. The hoops you have to jump through are involved and laborious. I often refer to the Garage Door Players as a "never-make-a-profit" theatre company. That fits us to a "T".
Our "profits" all go to paying our production expenses- as well as cast and crew. You know, it's not easy to secure money from sponsors and put “bums” in seats. Sometimes, I'm as successful as throwing a 20 dollar bill at a slot machine at Casino Rama.
But I continue.
We have just finished a short summer run at the Gravenhurst Opera House to terrific audiences, all part of the Gravenhurst OP's Summer Season. It was a wonderful experience. We co-produced the Norm Foster Comedy “Sadie Flynn Comes to Big Oak” with the Gravenhurst Opera House- something we have never done before. It certainly eased my workload as the Gravenhurst Opera House did all the promotion for the summer season. Even when we use non-theatrical facilities, we pay top price and still have to bring in much of our own equipment and crew and promote the show as best we can with limited funds.
This “Sadie Flynn” Show played in Orillia as well, back in May and June. We could not get theatre space so, we found ourselves in the Stubley Auditorium at St. James once again. Yes, a church auditorium. I always try to downplay that fact and just refer to the show location as the Stubley Auditorium but many media outlets just have to promote the hell out of the fact that it’s a church.
It’s not the best of situations but the Deacons at the church have been generous with The Garage Door Players. They know I don’t perform full-frontal nudity or use gritty cuss words, so I get a green light on my productions. We staged Sadie Flynn on the floor this time just in front of the Stubley stage. I wanted a change, so we played on the floor with the audience- in the round” as it is usually called. It was fun to play it that way and have the audience almost surround the actors. The audiences enjoyed it as well.
In Gravenhurst, we performed our Sadie Flynn in the upstairs theatre- equipped with terrific sounds and lights, with three new actors who did not appear on stage in Orillia. Although none of our actors are Equity, all of them have had many years of experience- some decades. I say this because there are some theatre people who get their knickers in a knot regarding Equity and Non-Equity but as a friend said to me recently- who directs Equity actors- “I just do a different type of theatre than you do.”
My director friend is right. I don’t work with unionized cast or crew.
Up at the Gravenhurst Opera House never once did an audience member ask the question- "Are you Equity or Non-Equity". It's like apples and oranges. Equity is one facet of theatre, the Garage Door Players are the "oranges".
Equity does not automatically give you experience or make you a better actor. Only the actor can do that by working hard at his or her craft. Equity protects an actor's rights. Equity allows time to pee. Time to eat. Time to rest. In non-Equity theatre we are the slave drivers. We have reckless attitudes and never give a thought to the well-being of cast and crew. We work ‘em till they drop to their knees and plead for food and a warm place to sleep.
In the Orillia/Muskoka area I don't believe most people even give Equity a second thought. In Toronto it's a different basket of apples- especially in the big theatres. Look what happened to Dancap when they brought in a terrific non-equity show a couple of seasons ago. A great show but some critics like Mr. Ouzounian over at The Star panned it. Mostly, because of the non-equity component. A good show got a bad review. Other Toronto reviewers loved the show- even though it was not unionized.
When we began the run of Norm Foster's "Sadie Flynn Comes to Big Oak" our Friday/Saturday numbers were low. By Thursday they were creeping up and by showtime on Friday and Saturday we had substantial houses.
Great advertising and media coverage for one thing but I also believe those theatre-goers who saw the Tuesday through Thursday shows spread the word.
So, if we weren't "professional" enough for these audiences- or "good enough", why would they pass the word? Because we were good enough and professional enough and we did it with local actors and crew from Orillia and Muskoka.
The question I did hear several times?
Why are you performing at the Gravenhurst Opera House and not in Orillia?
Again- apples and oranges
Some days you can't win for trying but we are going to keep trying and producing new shows and using the "local actors" we choose who have long resumes of successful stage productions.
As Orson Hubble says in Sadie Flynn- "A person can't ask for more than that can they?"