Stars align for Tri-City theatre club

Michelle Berg (playing Melissa Gardner) and Kris Buller (Andrew Makepeace Ladd III) are in Love Letters by A.R. Gurney.  - CLAIRE PINKETT
Michelle Berg (playing Melissa Gardner) and Kris Buller (Andrew Makepeace Ladd III) are in Love Letters by A.R. Gurney.
— image credit: CLAIRE PINKETT

When Stage 43 put on Dearly Departed last fall, board members of the Coquitlam theatre group hoped the title of the play wasn’t a premonition for their society.

At the time, Stage 43 was in dire financial trouble and the thought of shutting its operations after more than 30 years was top of mind.

Problems started in 2007 when the award-winning live theatre club was told by the provincial government it wouldn’t receive any more gaming handouts.

The reason? Stage 43 had too much money in the bank.

Through ticket sales and other means, the company had tucked away around $70,000 to build its own community theatre facility.

In short, it didn’t want to lease out space anymore to rehearse or to store sets and costumes.

With the province’s “use it or lose it” line, Stage 43 moved its business from the Riverview Hospital grounds and signed a five-year lease (right at the height of the real estate market) for a warehouse on Aberdeen Avenue, near Rona.

In 2012, seeing a loss of about $15,000 a year, Stage 43 asked the city to intervene by supplying a performing arts centre that could be shared with other arts groups in the Tri-Cities.

City staff turned down the request and suggested Stage 43 use a multi-purpose room in a local community centre; however, with the size of its sets, that wasn’t a viable option.

And so, with nothing else on the horizon, board members continued to dip into the capital fund to produce three shows a year at the Evergreen Cultural Centre — a venue that has doubled its rental rates over the past decade. Stage 43 was also forced to bump up ticket prices slightly to cover costs.

In November, faced with the possibility of fading to black this season, the volunteers agreed to scale back its January 2014 production.

They had sought to produce Murder on the Nile by Agatha Christie, a large show that required a large cast as well as large royalties.

Still, when not enough actors answered the audition call, “we made the decision to suffer our losses,” director Claire Pinkett said.

It was club member Michelle Berg who recommended Stage 43 offer Love Letters instead. The A.R. Gurney play requires two actors and a simple set. His royalties are also less than half of Christie’s.

“As soon as she texted me with the idea, I could picture the entire production in my head,” Pinkett said. “I knew it would work out.”

With morale higher than ever, Stage 43 also got another shot in the arm: Two weeks before Christmas, the city handed the society the $20,500 it had applied for as part of its Spirit of Coquitlam casino grant program.

With the unexpected turnaround, Pinkett said Stage 43 is now looking to restructure and find new rental space (its lease runs out in June).

As well, it’ll be getting ready for its final production of the 2013/’14 season with Seduced By Moonlight — Stage 43’s entry to the Fraser Valley Zone Festival.

Said Pinkett, “There are so many components to community theatre that people don’t realize. It’s very much a labour of love.”

• Stage 43’s Love Letters opens on Thursday at the Evergreen Cultural Centre (1205 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam) and runs until Jan. 25. Shows are at 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. performance on Jan. 19. For tickets, go to stage43.org/tickets or call the   Evergreen box office at 604-927-6555 or go online to evergreenculturalcentre.ca.





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