Perth – Since the Classic Theatre Festival opened its doors in Perth in 2010, staging award-winning productions of hits from the golden age of Broadway and the London Stage, over 2,000 people have enjoyed shows courtesy of the Save-a-Seat program, which provides free tickets to low-income and socially marginalized community members who would otherwise never be able to attend.
“It’s a program that we’re particularly proud of, because live theatre with some of Canada’s top professional performers should be accessible to everyone regardless of income,” says Classic Theatre Festival Artistic Producer Laurel Smith. “Save-a-Seat recipients can come to the theatre in dignity because their tickets look just like everyone else’s, so they never feel any social stigma.”
The popular program is supported by individual charitable donations, often provided by audience members, as well as the sale of used books in the Festival’s lobby, and a 50-50 raffle. Tickets are made available through partnerships with a variety of social service agencies across Lanark County and other parts of Eastern Ontario.
“Often when people purchase tickets, they buy an extra one for Save-a-Seat, or they add Save-a-Seat to their list of year-end charitable donations since we can provide a tax receipt,” says Smith.
The Festival’s Save-a-Seat program is fully in sync with the findings of a Community Foundations of Canada study from last April that found the arts remain an important cohesive force in communities, promoting social inclusion and a sense of belonging while enhancing the quality of life.
“We’ve seen individuals get so excited at the theatre, often a first-time experience for them, that they contact us to volunteer, which is one way of helping people re-connect to the community,” Smith says. “Some of them receive job skills and training, and others have received employment with the Festival as well.”
As Smith reflects back on the 2017 season – which received a record five nominations for artistic excellence at the Capital Critics Circle Awards – she points to numerous studies that highlight the socially beneficial outcomes of arts in the community. When the Perth & District Foundation released its landmark Lanark County Vital Signs 2017 report, it took special note of the region’s creative economy, pointing out that arts, entertainment and recreation make up six percent of the labour force and the fastest growing segment of the employment sector, growing by 41 per cent since 2012.
“We are a major employer for young people during the summer, often providing a first-time job and an excellent reference on a resume,” says Smith, who also points to a provincial economic analysis of the Classic Theatre Festival that found theatre-related tourism pumped over $1 million into the Perth economy last summer.
“What we are seeing is that partnering with the Festival is a great way to increase traffic in your business, from restaurants and accommodations to downtown shopping,” Smith says, adding that in 2018, a number of new special packages will allow tourists (who make up 81% of Festival audiences) as well as local residents even more opportunities to enjoy discounted entertainment experiences.
The Festival’s parent company, Burning Passions Theatre, is also planning its 4th season of a youth theatre training program called Listen Up!, which allows at-risk teenagers an opportunity to come together in a safe place, discuss issues of importance in their lives, and create and tour a play based on those topics. Last year’s show, The Invisible Boy, focused on youth homelessness, while the previous season’s Jessie’s Song explored the impacts of teen suicide on a community. The 2018 production, planned in advance of the #MeToo phenomenon, will be a helpful complement to that social movement, focusing on sexual harassment and violence against women and children.
The Festival is continuing its hugely popular holiday sale through December 31 (individuals can save as much as 25% off when they order by year’s end, and pick their dates anytime in 2018). Those wishing to take advantage of the flexible savings plan can order online at www.classictheatre.ca or call 1-877-283-1283.
Those looking for a charitable tax receipt to round out 2017 can donate to the Save-a-Seat program by clicking the Donate Now button on the Festival’s homepage at www.classictheatre.ca or by mailing cheques to the Classic Theatre Festival at PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0.
Featured photo: The Classic Theatre Festival’s Artistic Producer, Laurel Smith, looks back fondly on her company’s 8th successful season while praising the role of the Save-a-Seat program in opening up over 2,000 free seats to low-income and socially marginalized community members since 2010. Individuals wishing to support the program receive charitable tax receipts. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)