The Sid is looking to brighter days ahead. Photo by Mike Chouinard

The Sid is looking to brighter days ahead. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Courtenay’s Sid Williams Theatre looking to move on from tough year

Community facility has had no real rental revenue for 15 months due to COVID

It’s a been a tough year for the Sid.

The Sid Williams Theatre, like so many arts organizations, has endured a year like no other due to COVID shutdowns.

The people who run it though are optimistic about turning the corner. The plan is to open the doors to events later in the year, while over the summer they are looking to rebuild the volunteer base.

Board president Brian Mather, new board member Ash Shekhawat and general manager Deborah Renz recently appeared before Cumberland’s council to provide an update on the Sid. Even though it’s based in downtown Courtenay, they stressed it really serves the whole Comox Valley.

“We’re still a presence in the community,” Mather said. “We’re one of the cultural hubs of the entire valley.”

He stressed they did not come asking for anything such as funding but simply to let people know the theatre is still operating.

“It’s been a challenging time for us,” he said. “The Sid is more than a building; it’s more than a venue.”

He was working this spring with some young thespians thrilled to be back on the stage for a Courtenay Little Theatre virtual production. The Sid has been able to hold some events especially with local talent, though on a smaller scale, using video technology.

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However, the difference from the last regular year of scheduling is dramatic. In 2019, the Sid hosted more than 235 performances before more than 46,000 people. As a comparison, for the first three months of 2021, ticket sales totaled 436, and the venue has had almost no rental revenue for 15 months.

Federal and provincial grants have been crucial in keeping people employed through the delays, as well as some cash reserves that helped early on. The hope now is to take the next steps toward a return to business as usual, which will take some time.

“There have been some very hard months,” Renz said.

It will also take some volunteers. The base is down to about 30 people, as Renz said many of the regular volunteers were older and more vulnerable to COVID. The organization is looking to the summer months to bring in more people to increase the base.

“We need to rebuild our volunteer core,” she said.

The organization has developed a new succession plan, which puts operations more in the hands of staff and leaves the board to concentrate on governance.

One thing that will help, according to Mather, is having some new members like Shekhawat on the board to help bring some new ideas and enthusiasm when these are most needed.

“We’re here, and we just can’t wait to open the doors again,” Shekhawat said.

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