Barrie’s Kempenfelt Community Players (KCP) return to Georgian Theatre this month for the first time in three years.
Survival has been touch-and-go for the volunteer theatre group, but they took a creative approach, learned some new skills, participated in a unique fundraising opportunity (All Together Now!), and received some much-needed grant support to keep going.
“Last year, we moved into virtual shows trying to reconnect with audiences and keep that going,” said chairperson Julie Underhill. “For the 2022-23 season, we decided to go with two exciting productions, Elf The Musical Jr., in November. It’s exciting to see the schools are booking to see matinees.”
The youth show is open to the public Nov. 25-27, while school shows will be held earlier in the week.
This season won’t be a normal one with two productions instead of three. It will allow the group to rebuild while remaining flexible to the current health/COVID climate.
The group put together three different budgets for the Elf Jr. show because they didn’t know if they would be facing cancellations again due to COVID.
“We had to cover our bases because it could all change,” Underhill said. “Right now, the school shows are all sold out. We’ll just cross our fingers.”
KCP received a project grant from the City of Barrie toward videotaping and editing for Elf Jr. to offer it virtually as well, to schools outside of Barrie, the first week in December.
The youth production has been a KCP mainstay in recent years. Last year’s show was recorded outside. When they started rehearsals outside in a park, they were limited to five people and when restrictions eased to 10, they worked with the kids in groups of 10, then 25.
A grant from the Trillium Foundation provided the funds to learn new skills (filmmaking), and change the platform from in-person to virtual, streaming and live streaming, to connect to audiences. They were also able to hold workshops for directors and plan out filming.
“That was very intense, too, but it was so worth it,” said Underhill. “We were all on a learning curve trying to understand how long it would take. ... None of us had done filming. It was really well received by schools online and we did a Q&A with the classes later.”
Without the financial support of Trillium’s resiliency grant, Underhill isn’t sure KCP would have survived to announce the 2022-23 season.
Other factors that played a role in KCP’s survival have been the knowledge gleaned from a 45-year history of staging shows. Not all were successful which leaves a lean beginning and limited funds for the following season.
Fortunately, the two shows before the pandemic did well and that helped the group stay afloat financially. It can be expensive to stage a show — $25,000 to $50,000 for royalty fees, and then renting the theatre is among the biggest expenses.
KCP was also offered a unique opportunity last November when Musical Theatre Int., New York, waived its royalty fee for a global, one-weekend live or live-streamed musical event, to help community theatre groups recoup financially. All Together Now!, a musical revue of 15 songs, had live in-person and streamed performance options.
“It was a really exciting project to do and exciting to be part of it. It had a challenging structure, but all the resources were provided,” said Underhill, adding the Barrie show went forward with reduced capacity and masking. “It was the only live one (show) last year — the rest were all prerecorded.”
KCP has maintained space in an industrial plaza in south-end Barrie for rehearsals, to build sets, make props and costumes, and store them. Closing it was on the table as an option until they discovered there was another business in the same building that needed more space and was interested in subletting.
“That first six months,” Underhill said of finding out they could sublet, “that saved us because we were able to hold onto our space and all our equipment. I don’t think we’d be where we are right now with two shows rehearsing.”
For tickets and showtimes, visit www.kempenfeltplayers.com.