Whistler Theatre Project having social impact 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream first step to putting Whistler on professional theatre map

The economic impact of the Whistler Theatre Project’s (WTP) inaugural production in the resort won’t be known until the numbers are crunched. But so far, the company is meeting projections of 47 per cent full houses.

What is certain is that A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Rebagliati Park is having a definite social impact on the community.

In a presentation to RMOW council this week, Zaib Shaikh and Todd Talbot, WTP’s artistic producers, spoke of the production's success. The two men acknowledged the role that the municipal government had played in that success, including a Community Enrichment grant and staff support.

“We started this project with an eye to building capacity,” said Talbot.

The WTP would appear to be well on the well to doing that. At the halfway point of the production, 2,210 seats had been filled. Several of the 16 performances have been sellouts and five have been corporate events. Eight students have completed their Youth Theatre Conservatory program, aimed at actors aged 12 to 18. As well, they have initiated a pay-what-you-can evening to make the event as accessible as possible.

While the curtain won’t fall on he final performance of Shakespeare’s classic comedy until Sept. 3, the producers are already planning for the post-mortem so what they’ve learned this time out can be applied to subsequent seasons.

Councilors Eckhard Zeidler and Bob Lorriman both expressed pleasure that the fledgling company had plans for ’07, ’08 and ’09 seasons in the works.

Shaikh and Talbot’a initial business plan extended beyond 2010.They then broke the document down into one-, three- and five-year plans. With the first part of their plan having proved itself, they are now focusing on the future.

“Zaib and I think big,” said Talbot. “We would like to develop a new national theatre festival… like a Stratford, a Shaw or a Charlottetown.”

Despite choosing the Bard’s work for the premiere production, Talbot cautions that they are not a Shakespeare company, saying that WTP had a mandate to do both classical, contemporary and music theatre. Whatever the next seasons may look like, it’s clear that having a professional theatre company is an asset to a town more known for sports than culture.

“This is a great catalyst for tourism in our community,” said Councillor Ralph Forsyth. He added that attending a performance was a highlight of his summer, describing it as a night out he and his wife had enjoyed immensely.

Scott Taber, GM of the Four Seasons, echoed Forsyth’s comments.

“It’s a wonderful thing for the community. We’ve got an incredible variety of activities and this is a nice complement on the artistic side,” said Taber.

The Four Seasons is one of six hotels that have partnered with WTP to offer special theatre packages. The hotel’s Fifty Two 80 Bistro is also offering a pre-theatre dining special.

Taber could not speak to the economic impact the partnership with WTP was having on the hotel.

“We’re happy to partner with them and delighted they have picked Whistler for their production,” said Taber. “I would encourage people to go out and see it.”

Pat Allan, manager and wine director at Araxi, cited tracking the partnership program as problematic. As part of its partnership agreement with WTF, the restaurant offers a specially priced pre-theatre menu.

“It’s definitely drawn some people in,” said Allan. “But we offer the pre-theatre special to everyone. To be honest, it’s hard to track.

“However, I’ve talked to several people who mentioned they were going to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Other partners reported similar anecdotal success.

“The guests always like something new,” said one marketing executive who requested anonymity. “We haven’t had a lot of bookings on our package, but this is the first year. I would expect that it will build over the years to become something like Bard on the Beach. I imagine that does very well for Vancouver properties.”

From the artistic producer’s perspective, the partnerships are further evidence of a community ready to embrace a professional theatre company.

“We want WTP to grow in, and for, Whistler,” said Talbot. “For that to happen we needed to be supported by and in the vision of the community. Nobody knows it better than the stakeholders.”

In a follow-up e-mail Talbot wrote: “It is safe to say that one of the main goals in the development of Whistler Theatre Project was to increase the guest experience and build a base of loyal patrons who return to Whistler for a great theatrical experience and increase their stays in the resort. This season we have accomplished the increased guest experience and have driven a small component of theatre patrons to Whistler solely for the WTP experience.”

On Tuesday night the show sold out in 37 minutes, the house split between visitors and residents.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues until Sept. 3.

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