Times have been grim for Centrestage Theatre – Covid-19 lockdowns nearly closed its doors for good.
The fact that it is not only up and running now, but busier than ever, is a success story that is largely thanks to the community.
The theatre, in Ōrewa, is a registered charity, dependent on income from ticket sales, venue and costume hire, sponsorship and grants. It bears the considerable cost of running and maintaining its recently refurbished building (owned by Ōrewa Theatre Trust) – including an annual bill of $33,000 for insurance.
Co-manager Stephanie McKellar says before the first lockdown, the theatre was poised for its best year in ages.
“Just like that, the first six months of our programme was cancelled, and all income gone,” Stephanie remembers. “I had to refund ticket sales of around $21,000, including for a sold-out season of Strictly Ballroom.”
As she contacted ticket holders about the refund, Stephanie says she was overwhelmed with the response – just over $7000 was donated back to the theatre.
“In a time of such uncertainty, that was incredible,” she says.
Support continued to flow – from Ōrewa Theatre Trust, theatre patrons, the Government wage subsidy and, after an anxious wait, an Auckland Council grant.
Stephanie says a lot was learned along the way, such as how to manage audiences restricted to 100 socially distanced people and how to trim an already slim budget to the bone.
She says commercial sponsorship, including naming rights, would help ensure the facility’s future. Also she is hopeful as the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board lobbies Council for better funding that would bring it in line with other community theatres in the city.
“The whole Covid experience proved how the community values its theatre. You never know what’s around the corner but I’m optimistic, and so grateful,” Stephanie says.