New theatre advisory committee put in place
AMHERST – It appears as though a long-running dispute over operation of the Susan Taylor Theatre at ARHS has been resolved.
A new theatre advisory committee has been put in place to manage the theatre. The committee will have representation from school owner Ashford Investments Inc., a representative from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, the principal of ARHS, elected officials from Amherst and the Municipality of Cumberland and between three and seven community representatives.
“Showcase Productions had expressed a concern with how the theatre was being run. No one really knew what everyone was paying, some were paying more than others,” Coun. George Baker said. “Now there’s a policy in that you pick up an application to use the theatre, you know what your fee is and everyone pays the same. There’s a separate form if you want to put a fundraiser on as a non-profit organization. It will go before the committee and the committee will approve it.”
In July, Mayor Robert Small urged all the parties to come together after Showcase Productions announced it was pulling its major spring production of Happy Days: The Musical out of Amherst and moving it to Sackville.
Showcase board member Michelle Hicks, who was a member of the town’s arts council, said the school board had put new rules in place making it impossible for the organization to stay there. She said Showcase Productions provides $14,000 back to the community through its support of scholarships, awards and bursaries at ARHS and its support of the arts at Spring Street Academy and Cumberland North Academy.
Baker said the town doesn’t want to risk losing Showcase and he’s happy all the sides came together.
“My fear is that once they’re gone to Sackville we’ll never get them back and that’s a lot of spinoff for the community,” Baker said. “There’s nothing wrong with Sackville, but this is an Amherst group and we want them here. The good thing about this agreement is that groups that use it know what they’re paying going in, there’s no surprise bill at the end.”
The agreement says the theatre will be used primarily for educational, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities of ARHS students. Community use will be scheduled so that it doesn’t conflict with use by students.
The committee will also develop a rate structure for community rental of the theatre that ensures any community use is at no cost to the school board or the school’s owners, represented by BPC Penco Nova Scotia Inc.
As well, the school’s administrative office will be responsible for bookings at the theatre and any community use will be done in consultation with the committee, while the school board will receive any funds related to the community rental of the theatre. The funds will be applied, first, to any costs associated with the theatre’s rental and the rest will be used for the theatre’s upkeep and the promotion of the arts.
Baker said he has spoken to members of Showcase Productions and other theatre users and the response has been favourable.
He is also happy the town and the county each have representation on the committee considering each put $100,000 into the theatre’s construction when ARHS was built in the late 1990s.
Neither Hicks nor Ed MacKay of Showcase Productions could be reached for comment.