Small town trusting in documentary to salvage famous theatre from pandemic woes

There’s a unique buzz in the tiny town of Rosebud during theatre season. But the pandemic has silenced the town and its troupe. 

The 87 residents of this community near Calgary are all tied, in one way or another, to the Rosebud Theatre. The plays and musicals it produces attract 35,000 visitors every year. They come stay, eat and spend their money — and the town thrives.

But this year, the pandemic has temporarily closed the curtain on Rosebud. 

“We’ve been decimated,” Morris Ertman, the theatre’s artistic director, said of the facility. “It really is an economy here unto itself.”

It has cancelled three out of five shows planned for this year. With that 60 per cent of revenue evaporating, the managers turned to a very fitting fundraising idea. 

On Thursday, Rosebud Theatre hosted an online screening on their website of a 20-minute documentary all about the small town. 

Steep financial hill to climb

Rosebud, Alberta was filmed in 2018, telling the story of the people and economy of the rural hamlet.

“The town opened up to us,” film director Eric Pauls remembered. 

With their film festival run cancelled by COVID-19, the creators wanted to do something to help the town. 

“We kind of connected and realized we should use the film to get the message out about how important Rosebud is. And obviously that’s advantageous to both of us,” Pauls said.

There’s a steep financial hill to climb. Ertman said $400,000 is needed to see the theatre through 2020 and into its 38th season.

The seats at Rosebud Theatre will remain empty until September, at least. (Rosebud Theatre/Facebook)

The actors and theatre managers have narrowly avoided layoffs thanks to federal salary supports, Ertman said, but added job cuts could still be necessary in the future.

Ertman’s goal is to raise $50,000 from the online documentary screening. Two additional donors have agreed to match the public’s contributions up to $50,000. 

Both the film and the donation form will be available after Thursday’s initial screening.

Theatre is ‘the life force’ of the town

The town’s future is inextricably tied to the theatre’s fortunes, as it generates most of the economic activity in the town.

Pauls remembered his experience filming in Rosebud.

“It’s the life force driving the whole town,” he said. “The person running the bed and breakfast is probably going to be the star of the play.”

The next production is tentatively scheduled for September, and a second would be on at Christmastime. Ertman knows nothing can be planned for certain yet. 

That’s a problem for another day. There’s another priority for now. Ertman said he’s focused on using the documentary to put some of the “magic” back into Rosebud. 

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