By Stephen Petrick
The final curtain has drawn for the Highlands Summer Festival in 2022, and the people who contribute to the non-profit theatre group deserve a standing ovation.
This summer marked a triumphant return after two years of COVID shutdowns. The community theatre business – which provides culture, entertainment and some modest employment to Haliburton County – is, for the most part, back to normal and now an important fundraising season is about to begin.
“It was a really, really great season,” said Festival President Brian Kipping. “And, artistically, it was excellent.”
Kipping said the theatre will soon begin planning for 2023. Artistic Director Scot Denton typically announces the shows it will stage around November. Around the same time, the theatre group begins selling tickets and soliciting donations that can help the festival stay afloat.
Kipping pointed out that the Highlands Summer Festival is a registered charity, which encourages the development of artistic talents in the community. Those who go its website, www.highlandssummerfestival.on.ca can learn how to make donations.
Kipping said the theatre usually needs to raise $6,000 to $8,000 to ensure it will have a successful season. Its hope is to pull even, not make a profit.
Fortunately, the festival has a loyal and supportive fan base, who pack the small theatre of about 200 seats for most events.
Kipping said he and his colleagues were unsure what attendance would be like heading into this season, given that “COVID jitters” were still out there in the spring, and some people were likely to have nerves about sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers in a theatre.
But, he said, two main shows, The Sound of Music and Across the Pond, played to nearly sell-out audiences. He said attendance was below capacity for other shows, such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Every Brilliant Thing, but not to a concerning level. Given the climate, he was happy with ticket sales.
More importantly, he said, the theatre, to his knowledge, didn’t contribute to any outbreaks. COVID is still hurting the theatre industry in many Ontario communities – there are some somber stories out there about production companies having to shut down shows due to positive tests – but the Highlands Summer Festival was able to avoid that fate. Kipping said most of the audience members voluntarily wore masks, with no complaints.
As he met with patrons during the season, one thing became clear: they missed having theatre in 2020 and 2021 and were glad to have it back.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Kipping said. “That comes from conversations in the lobby and people we meet uptown. It was uplifting for people to (return to the theatre). People had put their lives on pause.”
Kipping wouldn’t speculate what shows may be in store for 2023, saying that Denton works on those decisions, but the lineup usually contains a mix of at least one comedy, one musical and one drama.
The theatre usually recruits some actors from outside the region, but also encourages local actors to audition and get a glimpse of show businesses.
If all shows can sell enough tickets to reach 70 per cent capacity, the theatre company is likely to pull even – and, without risk, continue to contribute to Haliburton County’s vibrant culture and economy.
Because local residents were willing to give theatre a try again – and do so while keeping the safety of others in mind – there are high hopes for a successful 2023 season.
“We owe a deep amount of gratitude to everyone who came out this year,” Kipping said. To donate to the festival, visit www.highlandssummerfestival.on.ca/donate.html.