The Sid Williams Theatre, like others across the land, has been quiet in recent months because of pandemic restrictions.
With some help from a recent grant, the society that runs the theatre is planning on some form of programming for the coming year.
The Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET)’s Small Capital Restart Funding Stream is providing funding to the Sid Williams Theatre Society and a couple of other Island organizations to help spur activity in communities.
ICET makes up to $15,000 available as a matching grant program. For the Sid Williams, this means the theatre will be adding infrastructure to offer quality livestream of performances, workshops, educational programs or other events. This will allow for a “hybrid” style of performance, meaning the event will be livestreamed in front of a small audience. The theatre still has crowd-size restrictions of 50 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic after having to cancel events this spring.
As ICET says in a recent news release, the “Sid” is one of the busiest regional theatres in B.C., so the program will help them again provide important programming in the community.
“Supporting our cultural and artistic institutions through improved and alternate revenue generation is a long-term investment in our communities,” ICET CEO Line Robert says in the release. “The Streaming from the Sid project … will help to stabilize the regional arts and culture sector pending Phase 4 reopening, providing benefits to community arts organizations, professional artists, event organizers and the broad audiences these events serve.”
The plan is to use the funding to cover the costs of the equipment and software to provide quality livestreaming as well as training for personnel, says Deborah Renz, the theatre’s general manager.
“There’s a lot of theatres in B.C. that are introducing this equipment,” she says. “A lot of theatres are opting to try livestreaming.”
Renz is thankful different levels of government have been able to support arts and culture organizations at a difficult time.
“Our organization is really grateful for that because it’s made the difference between us shutting down completely or having a hope of staying open,” she says.
The objectives for the Sid Williams Theatre are to make its programming for the year more financially viable through a “hybrid” season, to offer the same amenities to community organizations that want to rent the theatre and, over the long term, look at how the technology can be used on an ongoing basis for programming, especially for those who cannot come in person.
“What we would like to do is use technology to use make theatre programming available to people who can’t, for whatever reason, attend in person. That could be people with mobility issues, that could be people such as seniors who aren’t able to arrange transportation all the time…. We’re also thinking of possible educational opportunities.”
The Blue Circle Series, which consists of touring performers from the rest of Canada, the U.S. and other countries, will probably not be in the works for the near future. The streaming technology though will allow the Sid to expand its Centre Stage at the Sid series, which generally consists of performers from Vancouver Island or around B.C.
“We’re are going to aim for a somewhat smaller season,” Renz says.
This would mean something like the Vancouver Island Symphony could continue to come to town, though probably as a smaller ensemble performing for a smaller crowd as well as online.
The staff at the Sid Williams Theatre will be working over the summer on setting up the technology, getting training and working on programming for the fall and spring. Already, they have been surveying audiences to gauge their interest in the small live shows mixed with livestreaming, and Renz says the response depends on what is being offered, the quality and the cost.
At present, there are a lot of free offerings to stream, she says, but the quality is not always much better than something shot on a cell phone.
“We’re hoping to have a good system with good software to back it up and good training for the personnel,” she says. “We’re trying to have as much of the professional theatre experience as we can.”