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Fund fuels big dreams

Staging Gone With the Wind impossible without donors

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All the world may be a stage, but it takes money to run a theatre.

The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre produces plays on two stages -- its John Hirsch mainstage and its Tom Hendry Warehouse stage -- as well as producing the annual Fringe Festival and presenting the Master Playwright Festival.

But without generous donors, whether individual, corporate or government, the RMTC's stage lights might not be turned off, but they would be dimmer.

Steven Schipper, the RMTC's artistic director, puts it in words that don't come from a script when he talks about what just one of its donor funds, the Endowment Fund, means to the theatre.

"If it wasn't for the Endowment Fund and separate very generous help from the Richardson Foundation, we would never have been able to even dream about Gone With the Wind," Schipper said.

"When you think of it, even Scarlett's dress came from a donation. The donation from the Richardson Foundation allowed us to utilize the two wheels (which rotated to change sets on either side of the stage) because without that, the electronics and the mechanics of them would have been beyond us.

"My favourite comment about that play is, at three hours, it was too short."

Because of generous donors who gave to the theatre's Endowment Fund campaign in the last few years, as well as other donors, almost $500,000 comes to the RMTC annually from the Winnipeg Foundation, which holds and invests the principle and gives the theatre a portion of the interest generated.

"It allows us to maintain and enhance the width and breadth of our program," Schipper said.

"We would otherwise be reduced to smaller-cast plays... the Endowment Fund allows us to dream big."

The Endowment Fund also allows the theatre to make decisions without just thinking about the dollars.

"The cost savings are greater when we partner 'with another theatre company, but we want to do that as an artistic choice, not as a financial necessity."

Heidi Malazdrewich is one of the many people whose lives have been helped through the generosity of RMTC donors.

Malazdrewich, who is busy preparing for her debut next season as the director of The Secret Annex, was able to tap into the theatre's scholarships and apprenticeship program, both created with the help of donors. She said the money allowed her to be apprentice director on last year's production of Mrs. Warren's Profession and this season's Gone With the Wind, as well as being assistant director on last year's Romeo and Juliet.

"It definitely helped me," said the graduate of the University of Calgary's master's in directing program. "If not for the scholarship and apprenticeship, I wouldn't be where I am today.

"To get a directing job is difficult. You have to show people you understand the resources and you will use them with care. Apprenticing is great because you get to learn and use their resources and you get to show them that you understand how the theatre works.

"I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity."

Camilla Holland, the RMTC's general manager, described how a chair was set up in the lobby a few years ago to show patrons how only about half of their seat at the show was paid for by the ticket price while the rest was covered by donations or by government funding.

Holland said the breakdown is: 50 per cent from subscription and ticket revenue, 20 per cent from public funding, 13 per cent in private-sector fundraising, seven per cent from endowment income and 10 per cent from miscellaneous sources.

Holland said the funds the RMTC receives from the Winnipeg Foundation represents about $500,000 per year out of its $8-million budget.

"It's huge -- it allows us to move confidently forward in planning a season," she said.

"But what I find astounding is the number of donors that go with it. We didn't build (the Endowment Fund) with multimillionaires, but with many, many people donating.

"It shows just how deeply imbedded we are in the community."

Holland said the main campaigning for the Endowment Fund was completed a few years ago, but people who donated still receive annual requests to see if they'd like to send more.

"There are people who will only give to an endowment fund," she said.

"Most of our planned giving is intended to go to the Endowment Fund, so we're not putting the brake on the campaign, but taking the foot off the gas a bit."

Holland said most of their donor efforts now is to encourage people to give to funds to help the theatre's annual expenses.

"The Endowment Fund is a strong key leg of our fundraising stool, but we just want to make sure all the other legs are strong," she said.

"Our donors say to us they donate to us because they want us to be here for generations to come."

Kristine Betker, the RMTC's director of fund development, said the Endowment Fund currently has more than $12 million in it.

"It's pretty darn awesome," Betker said. "It speaks to the hard work by Gail Asper and Maureen Watchorn the co-chairs.

"But we're doing other things like exciting outreach programs, too. That's what our annual fund supports."

Lawyers and judges in the community have also done their part for two decades to help keep the theatre in the black. Next month, more than a dozen people from the local legal community will be trotting the boards to put on Legally Blonde, The Musical.

Schipper said through the years the legal beagles have served $800,000 in donations through the plays.

"Lawyers often get a bad rap, which they don't deserve because their professional work is all about helping people in trouble," he said.

"We're not in trouble but the lawyers and judges who act on stage or are backstage are generous to a fault."

Schipper said no matter how people want to donate to the RMTC -- or in what area -- it not only helps the theatre, it helps themselves and their fellow patrons.

"Some people think art forms like the ballet and the symphony need donations more because theatre is so popular," he said.

"If we (didn't get donations) we'd have to charge three times the ticket price and there wouldn't be any student discounts. It's the annual fund that keeps our ticket prices affordable for all and it is crucial."

How to help

GO to and click on support MTC. When you click on Donate Now it will give you a choice of donating to the theatre's annual fund or endowment fund.

You can also click on Individual Giving to receive benefits depending on the size of the donation including acknowlegment in a play program, receiving the RMTC newsletter and a behind-the-scenes tour.

Or you can mail a cheque to the RMTC at 174 Market Ave., Winnipeg, MB R3B 0P9.

For more information on making a gift, you can contact Garth Johnson at 204-956-1340 extension 240.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 A27


Updated on Monday, April 1, 2013 at 1:21 PM CDT: Corrects photo caption.

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