After some tough times over the past couple of years, the Sid Williams Theatre Society reports things are turning around.
The society was hit hard in recent years by federal, provincial and BC Gaming cuts, and ticket sales suffered due to the struggling economy.
Society president Catherine Miller updated Courtenay council Monday on SWTS operations, revenues and changes at the board level.
"It has been a busy and challenging two-and-a-half years for the Sid Williams Theatre Society," said Miller. "Demands on the board were extremely elevated but we are pleased with where we are today and with what we have achieved."
Miller noted increased rental rates and increased ticket handling fees, among other changes, have boosted revenues, and SWTS expects to break even for 2012. However, she added breaking even is largely possible thanks to extra funding from the City — the City provided $170,000 in its 2012 budget, up from $130,000 in previous years, and gave the society a one-time amount of $60,000 from gaming funds.
"We would like to thank council for showing its commitment to the success of the Sid Williams by approving what was a substantially increased budget request for this year," she said. "In the medium term we will need to maintain this level of funding until we can rebuild adequate surplus capital reserves."
She noted other Valley governments gave more funding to the theatre in an effort to help, but the money is not a budgeted line item — so the society must apply and hope each year — and makes up about 10 per cent of governmental contributions to SWTS.
"That leaves us with the lion's share of required government revenues coming from the City of Courtenay as our partner," she said.
Coun. Starr Winchester told Miller the Comox Valley Regional District is in the midst of considering a culture function, which could help give some funding stability to the Sid.
"Directors are considering a function for culture and I'm really happy that this is going to happen, and we're pretty confident that it is — they seem really keen on it," said Winchester. "So I think that will give you some stability moving forward, too."
Coun. Manno Theos said he could see the society is being proactive and "trying to make the numbers work," and he asked her if there are any community theatres that don't rely on government funding.
"There is no such thing as a self-sufficient community theatre. It does not exist. I don't think there's a theatre in this country that is self sufficient that does not rely to some extent on government support," said Miller. "To be honest, this theatre has relied considerably less on government funding than many theatres around the province."
Meanwhile, she noted SWTS will concentrate on how to increase revenues by maximizing capacity and ticket sales, and will focus on attracting more corporate support in the Valley. She added the Sid is looking at bringing more commercial shows in, which provide more revenue.
Coun. Doug Hillian asked how non-profit groups have reacted to the increased rental rates — 10 per cent each year over three years for non-profit groups, which started this year, and 30 per cent more for commercial, which started in 2011.
Miller said non-profit groups still use the theatre but book less rehearsal time.
"They're still there, they're still doing their big performance, but instead of taking five days, now they're taking two, and that leaves us those other three days for example that now we can fill in," she said.
SWTS has some new board members with experience in business, legal and accounting as of this year, which has helped improve how it functions, according to Miller.
Also, the Sid rebranded itself with a new logo and slogan during the summer and updated the look of its website at www.sidwilliamstheatre.com.
"These efforts have been met with positive feedback from clients, sponsors and staff, and we are very happy with the results," said Miller.