A new name for the new look and Kelowna Summer Theatre Festival is off to the races for a second season they’re hoping will yield stronger returns.
The first season proved a smash success with the burgeoning actors employed by the program. At least one, Jacyln Nestman, will return this summer and three times as many auditioned this year from across Western Canada.
But the Rotary Arts Centre lawn where the theatre festival is held was only at 25 per cent capacity last summer.
“It was a bit disappointing, we were hoping to do better, but it was also encouraging,” said Peter Kascak, board president. “We actually did fairly well (financially); we didn’t lose our shirts. And now we have something to build on.”
And they’ve got one big name on board to help the do so.
Former mayor Sharon Shepherd will be joining the small society to help bolster the effort as the long-serving group makes the switch from musical theatre to the new outdoor plays.
Currenlty named Viva Musica, a very operatic name for a group originally focused on opera, the society will now be called Kelowna Summer Theatre Festival Society, as determined in a vote earlier this week.
The society has already made content changes in its double decade history, first from opera to musical theatre and now it takes on a new smaller production, outdoor format.
Staging large musical theatre productions in the Kelowna Community Theatre filled the seats for many years, but in the face of a sluggish economy, the productions were becoming increasingly risky.
With this new effort, intended to be similar to the New Vic in London, England and Bard on the Beach in Vancouver, the society is building a fresh start the directors are fairly sure will be popular—though the old name needed to go.
“It just makes things a bit clearer from a marketing perspective,” said Kascak. “…We’re starting anew with a new name and a new niche and a new format and it just makes sense.”
And they have more cards in addition to Shepherd. Jazz singer Anna Jacyszyn will also be working with the group, performing and likely helping with promotions.
The new troupe stages what’s called repertory theatre, providing two different shows for audiences on alternating nights, and it’s a terrific challenge for the young professionals hired into the cast.
Artistic direction is handled by Neal Facey, the newly retired Kelowna Secondary School drama teacher who was part of the teaching team who put the school’s arts programs on the map.
He selects a musical and a play and he has picked (Title of Show)—written as it’s shown—as the musical. The production is about two struggling playwrights who hear about a new musical theatre festival and decide to submit, though the deadline is looming and they have nothing on paper.
For this year’s play, the troupe will be working with Private Eyes, a contemporary comedy drama that challenges and tricks its audience.
The society has been very successful at securing grants and has seen extensive community support, with sponsorship from places like Wentworth Music (equipment), Grant Thornton, and Hawkeye Holdings (prop storage).
Only one in 12 of the young performers who audition land a spot, so competition to work with the group is already stiff.
Watch the company’s website for ticket information and announcements .