Updated October 14th
The creative theatrical duo of Dave Campbell and Tim Webb will not be producing summer theatre either in Orillia or other neighbouring municipalities in 2014.
In an Orillia Opera House Facebook posting at the end of September, Opera House General Manager Krista Storey posted a fond farewell message to the duo and to those she wished to thank for their support over the previous several seasons of City-financed and managed summer theatre. “Last night was the final show of our 2013 summer theatre season and the end of an ‘era’…. A debt of gratitude is owed to Dave Campbell and Tim Webb for bringing us four years of incredible theatre.”
Ray Merkley, Director of Parks Recreation and Culture confirmed that “they [Campbell and Webb] have let us know that they are not interested in returning for the 2014 season.” Merkley also commented that the City had been “quite pleased with their services”.
Merkley and Storey subsequently appeared before Orillia City Council on October 7th requesting approval to issue a Request For Proposals (RFP) in order to seek out parties interested in creating a new season of summer theatre under City supervision and with City financial support. Information given to The Green Room suggests that in fact, this initiative was encouraged by Councillor Tony Madden. However, no details whatsoever have been made available as to what exactly the City is laying out in terms of support and conditions for prospective theatre groups and organisation that might wish to apply. The Green Room has requested answers to this and to a series of other questions, and hopes to bring those answers forward to its readers prior to Council ratification on October 21st. As far as The Green Room and Madden are aware, the RFP details are being developed without the input of either the public or the creative community.
However, Campbell claims that he and Webb themselves “have no immediate plans to produce again. At the moment there are no offers on the table.”
Dave Campbell and Webb first came to Orillia 4 years ago as an independent theatrical group directed by themselves and two others, calling their company Laugh Out Loud Productions. The City became financially involved in 2011 when Opera House General Manager Krista Storey requested a grant from City Council of $42,000, payable to Laugh Out Loud, for ‘marketing purposes’. With the prospect of Laugh Out Loud dissolving and not returning for the 2012 season, Storey convinced Council to completely underwrite the season’s summer theatre, contracting Campbell and Webb as artistic directors under her supervision. Campbell explains that the continued use of the Laugh Out Loud name, in the face of the company’s, dissolution was to “continue the successful branding”.
What is there to show after 3 years of City investment?
The City of Orillia has capitalised the summer theatre programme to the tune of about $200,000 each summer, an unprecedented commitment from a small town municipality as far as The Green Room is aware. Losses each year have been in the range of $40,000 to $60,000 with seat sales apparently showing little or no growth over the period. However, as has been previously documented, Storey and Campbell did not seek any local input into either programming or offer auditions to any local non-Equity actors. The combination of near-100% municipal financing , total managerial control, and the absence of any local engagement on any level has spawned some criticism from the artistic community.
However, not all local theatrical artists were concerned about the lack of local involvement. Mariposa Arts Theatre (MAT) President Michael Beresford commented on-line in The Green Room last fall that his local community theater organisation had no interest in participating in summer theatre in Orillia and was happy with their relationship with Campbell and Webb on another level. That level is assumed to be the tenant/landlord arrangement MAT enjoyed in from 2010 to 2012 by renting their rehearsal space to Campbell and Webb. However, the City, as managers and producers of the summer season, declined to rent the MAT facility this season, instead using an empty and redundant school building and leaving MAT out of any relationships and resultant financial reward.
Has the well been poisoned?
Interestingly, Campbell does hold out hope that local productions might once again find their way onto the Opera House stage. “It is my fond hope that our departure will give local groups the opportunities they deserve.”
However, any enthusiasm for that possibility will be tempered by the fact that local productions and artists have been shut out for several years. Despite the significant taxpayer investment made each year, coupled with significant losses, no foundation for summer local theatre has been laid. Furthermore, General Manger Krista Story has been quite clear in previous statements that the involvement of local non-union talent on the Opera House stage would diminish the quality of theatre in the Opera House ‘to that of community theatre”, which would allegedly impact the involvement of sponsors and the support of audiences.