Teatro Live! forms club to repay loan

· The Pulse

Enduring Edmonton theatre company Teatro Live! has leveraged community support to help repay its Canadian Emergency Business Account loan, due Jan. 18. Doing so means Teatro will see $20,000 of its $60,000 loan forgiven, with the remaining $40,000 to be subsidized by something called The Teatro 400.

The 400 concept isn't a run-of-the-mill fundraiser. It seeks 400 donations of $100 each that net donors tax receipts and membership in a club of patronage. Contributors will be invited to a thank-you party later this year.

Conceptual as that may sound, it came to the organization's leader organically. "Not a lot (of thought went into it)," Stewart Lemoine, founder and resident playwright for Teatro Live!, told Taproot.

Lemoine said taking a loan to repay Teatro's $60,000 loan and receive $20,000 in debt forgiveness was a less-than-ideal option due to costs. "At the beginning of December we had sort of talked about strategies… I think I just said in a meeting, 'You know, all we need is 400 $100 donations.'"

The campaign raised $10,000 in its first day. As of Jan. 17, it hovered around $23,500 out of its $40,000 goal. Lemoine said he'd be surprised if the campaign raised $40,000 in time for the CEBA deadline. But he has a back-up plan.

"There is a fund in town called the Social Enterprise Fund, and they're great," Lemoine said. "They specialize in working with non-profits and are quite flexible in their terms. They're not as ironclad as the bank, and certainly offer a lower interest rate."

Taproot reached out to the Social Enterprise Fund, established by the Edmonton Community Foundation and the City of Edmonton in 2008, to ask if other non-profits have sought loans for pandemic relief as the CEBA deadline approaches. A representative said they couldn't comment.

For-profit businesses struggling to repay pandemic loans are currently in the news. But a theatre non-profit is a different beast. The arts are not highly profitable and rely on grants and donors as a result. During pandemic restrictions, many theatres were unable to operate even when restaurants and retailers could. Still, Lemoine is optimistic about Teatro's position in the pandemic loan mix.

"I just think we have a leg up just because we do have a charitable number and can issue tax receipts," Lemoine said. "It's been encouraging for a number of reasons — not just because we're eradicating the debt — but just so many lovely comments from people as they make their donations, sort of indicating the value of what we do, and their desire to see it keep going."

Actors pose in flamboyant costumes around a bar set on a theatre stage. Each is raising a glass.

The cast of Everybody Goes to Mitzi's on stage during Teatro Live!'s 2022-2023 season. (Marc J. Chalifoux Photography)

Lemoine has run Teatro since 1982, originally by the name Teatro La Quindicina. That year was also the stage debut of his first play, All These Heels, at Edmonton's first Fringe Theatre festival. He's part of the fabric of Edmonton theatre, illustrated by his 2010 induction into the Edmonton's Arts and Culture Hall of Fame. He also has a substantial entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia.

The name of The Teatro 400 is a cheeky nod to the 400 wealthy elite of New York City's Gilded Age — a fitting nod given the calibre of Broadway actors who appear on the HBO show of the same name.

Lemoine said it's more about having a bit of fun rather than celebrating the 1%. "That community of rich people was referred to as the 400 because it was determined that there were 400 genuinely high-society people in New York at any time during that era," he said. "It's not the best group to associate with yourself — their behaviour and condescension. But I think the joke is that none of those people ever had to ask anybody for money."

Fundraising efforts continue past Jan. 18. Teatro's goal is still $40,000, enough to cover the supplementary loan it received from the Social Enterprise Fund.

The next opportunity to see a Teatro production is between Feb. 9 to 25 at its home in Varscona Theatre. It's a remount of Pith!, a show Lemoine penned and directed that hasn't been on stage since 2012.