Matilda the Musical thrilled audiences over four weeks as it toured the Valley. The Rural Arts Project has launched a sponsorship campaign to ensure that this type of community-driven theatre can continue in the region. (Photo: Sarah Rennie) Now that the final notes of Matilda the Musical have stopped resonating through the Valley, the creative team behind the Rural Arts Project is taking stock of what was a very successful touring production this summer, with eyes on an already busy fall season. Mounting financial pressure, however, has cast a shadow over the future of the community-driven performing arts organization housed in Grove Hall in Huntingdon. “We’ve always been self-sustaining,” says Tina Bye, co-owner of Grove Hall and member of the board of directors for the Rural Arts Project. “Now, for the first time in our existence, we need a fundraising campaign,” she says, suggesting the long cold winter, low attendance at some events, and cuts to municipal, provincial, and federal level programs have left them with little choice other than turning to the community for support. The “Play Your Part” sponsorship campaign was recently launched, timed to coincide with the Matilda the Musical tour. The campaign is ongoing, however, with opportunities for partnering over the long term with the Rural Arts Project to ensure that local community-fueled productions continue to take place. The costs associated with creating theatre include paying for the rights to the shows (which in the case of musicals can amount to thousands of dollars), costuming, set construction, lighting and sound equipment rental, as well as sourcing stage props, and advertising. Add to this the hefty price tag associated with maintaining a historic building and expansive grounds, as well as hosting concerts, and the annual budget is quickly depleted. “People are not taking advantage of this as they once were,” Bye says, admitting they have been paying out of pocket to cover the remaining portion of costs and fees due to lower than anticipated attendance at performances and concerts. Unfortunately, this reality has coincided with less available funds from government programs they had previously benefited from. According to Bye, funding for community-driven theatre is non-existent. The funding model that does exist is based instead on a very urban model that would require the Rural Arts Project to become a professional theatre equity house. “This would eliminate the homegrown theatre that we do. We feel like we would lose our relevance,” Bye says of having to hire equity actors. The size of the productions would have to be dialed back, which counters their mission of bringing quality large-scale productions, featuring local actors, to a rural audience. “What is important is the opportunity we offer our community,” Bye insists, while lamenting the fact professional quality theatre in a rural context simply does not register with the larger arts-based grant bodies. The next production is already in the works, with a public reading scheduled for September of a new play conceived and written by Bye herself and local musician Christopher Pennington. The piece aims to tell the stories of English-speaking small-town Quebec. The hope is that they will be able to start production on the play after the reading. For more information on upcoming events or more information on the sponsorship campaign, visit grovehall.ca.