MONCTON – Real-estate developer Cyril Johnston believes that theatre can be an economic driver, so he decided to open RoundHouse Productions, a theatre company that will present its first show next week at the Empress Theatre.
Johnston, the company’s president, says the idea had been a subject of discussion for a few months prior to its incorporation on February 1.
“It’s a project that a few of us have been talking about for a long time,” he said.
He named the company RoundHouse Productions because of Moncton’s history as a railroad town. Plus, he liked the name, and his office is located near an old roundhouse.
Johnston says his wife, Andrea, has been involved in the decision of beginning the company. They both own Colston Properties, a real-estate developer of commercial and industrial properties.
“Having a business background has helped tremendously in terms of the business-oriented tasks of setting up a theatre company,” he said.
The couple also have a theatre background. Johnston has worked for companies in New Brunswick – such as Saint John Theatre Company and Collective Theatrics in Fredericton – and Ontario for about seven years. They decided to take some time off from theatre to raise their children.
“When the children were old enough to be on the road is when we really got more active in the theatre world,” he said.
Johnston says turning the idea into a reality wasn’t that difficult because of his theatre network in Moncton, and because he and his wife have the necessary skills to make the project come forward.
“I knew that if we put together a good framework and were able to give the creative people, the director, the light people, the actors, the support that they needed, then people would be very enthusiastic about coming on board,” he said.
The Tingley Group of RBC Dominion Securities is the main sponsor for the company’s first show, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Other sponsors include Cox & Palmer, Cheers, Heritage Developments Limited, Roadway Systems, Cushman & Wakefield, Incolor, and Newco Construction, who has also built some set constructions.
Johnston says all the sponsors were enthusiastic about contributing to the show.
“Every single person we asked was on board immediately. We had a budget of what we were hoping to get through sponsorship, and we achieved that, and I’m sure we could’ve gotten more if we had asked,” he said.
It also struck him that the sponsors shared his view of looking at theatre as an economic driver.
“The sponsors really seemed to understand the importance of theatre in terms of both the vibrancy in the community and in terms of what it can offer, in terms of helping develop a community economically,” he said.
The company’s board of directors chose the show because it’s well-known as a novel and had a good theatre adaptation.
“It’s one of the most wonderful things I have ever read, and I think audiences are going to enjoy this tremendously,” he said.
Johnston says the show is a small one, with around 20 people in the cast – without including the staff at the Empress Theatre – and a budget in the low five-figure range.
He believes Moncton – and New Brunswick overall – is lagging in terms of having theatre as an economic driver, compared to other Maritime provinces, such as Prince Edward Island.
“In the town of North Rustico, they have professional theatre running every night, all summer long, and that attracts an enormous number of people over the course of the summer to that community. Victoria-by-the-Sea attracts a large number of people to that community as part of the overall vacation experience,” he said.
Johnston believes a true summer experience could be developed in Moncton and New Brunswick, where people can reliably go and expect to see good theatre.
“Our group obviously is a long way from being able to offer that, but that’s something that I would like to see developed in this area over time, where people who live here and people who are traveling here have this as something on their radar that they would like to do while they are in the area,” he said.
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