West Village Theatre wants to Reopen

The Cause

In 2014, The West Village Theatre Society was founded by a group of Calgary theatre companies to fulfill their need for production, performance, and administrative space. The West Village Theatre (WVT) is an 83-seat black box venue located in Calgary’s Sunalta community. It is home to resident organizations Ghost River Theatre and Calgary Young People’s Theatre, and also acts as a cultural space for rent serving the community’s theatre, dance, music, and event needs. As a key anchor in the inner-city, culturally-sparse Sunalta neighbourhood, WVT is committed to providing a vibrant and accessible space and artistic experiences to an otherwise under served community of patrons.

In March 2020, WVT was closed to public activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the venue has remained closed to any significant rehearsal and performance activity, cancelling rentals and losing earned revenue, and adding to the societal void of live cultural activity. WVT aims to reopen its doors in September 2020 for the 2020-21 season, following the Stage 2 Relaunch Guidelines from Alberta Health Services as well as City of Calgary bylaws (requiring masks in indoor public spaces). Many of our clients are already in vulnerable positions due to the pandemic. With social-distancing limiting ticket sales potential and the challenge of engaging nervous audiences they face enough risk in restarting their performance activities without the added fundamental concern of paying for personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies to support everyone’s health. As a venue, WVT thus strives to take responsibility for providing safe and comfortable conditions for our client and patron users, including providing PPE, to reduce the mitigation costs for our struggling clients, and to build audience confidence in the pandemic-era live performance experience. By doing so, we also ensure our own on-going operations.

The Idea
Through this grant, WVT would purchase 5,000 masks and hand sanitizer for use by its audience patrons, workshop registrants, and artists through the 20-21 season, as well as face shields for staff and artists; we would also install plexiglass, guiding stickers, and signage in key locations. In support of our clients and patrons, we would also offer training for staff and volunteers responsible for managing mitigated events in our space, and make this training available to other interested members of the broader community.

Who Will it Benefit?

Our resident theatre organizations, arts and community rental clients, and the general public who attend workshops and performances in our space, will all benefit. Other community members seeking training on managing mitigated live events will also benefit.

Resident theatre organizations include Ghost River Theatre, which has a production of ”Sensory Box” planned for the fall, and youth-focused Calgary Young People’s Theatre, which has two theatre runs, the One Act Festival, and the Cannonball Festival planned throughout next season. Currently, we have over a dozen bookings and holds during the 20-21 season. If we can safely open our doors, we hope that additional organizations will benefit.

Importantly, the general public will benefit. Workshop registrants, Calgary Young People’s Theatre youth membership, and the many public patrons, sponsors, and donors who engage with and attend the events of the artistic organizations and rental clients add up to thousands of people who come through our doors every year.

Audience surveys generally indicate that less than 50% of arts patrons would be willing to attend live performances during the pandemic if proper mitigation measures are in place, demonstrating strong audience concerns. (https://www.audienceoutlookmonitor.com/ ; https://enigmaresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2020-Return-to-Live-Events-Survey-by-Enigma-Research.pdf). We estimate that social distancing requirements will reduce the WVT capacity to 25% (20-35 people depending on seating configuration) but that in line with research, our venue should achieve this reduced maximum capacity throughout the season of performance offerings if patron health and safety concerns are met.