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Empress Theatre hit by pandemic challenges

denise joel
Denise Joel

The Empress Theatre Society found reason to celebrate last week in a year of limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been an unprecedented year for the Empress Theatre, and of course, the world,” society president Denise Joel said. “In the case of the Empress Theatre, however, adversity bred inspiration, innovation and an opportunity to overcome, together.”

The Empress Theatre Society held its annual general meeting Oct. 27 in the theatre’s Green Room, with 17 people in attendance.

Joel praised the work of staff, board members and volunteers in forging ahead, even though the pandemic cancelled concerts and shut down the daily movies.

Joel noted that when the pandemic hit in March the board made the difficult decision to lay off the projectionist staff and suspend contracts for the program director and marketing provider.

Joel said staff will be rehired when pandemic restrictions are lifted.

In the midst of the gloom brought on by the pandemic, there were examples of innovation and inspiration.

“We have worked together to ensure that the Empress continues to be a gathering spot for entertainment for our community,” Joel said. “From popcorn sales to theatre rentals, the Empress doors were never closed for long.”

Innovation included the weekly sale of the theatre’s famed popcorn, with people calling in orders for pick-up.

Another example is rental of the theatre for private gatherings.

Theatre managing director Margaret Ann Bianco came up with the idea of theatre rentals to be paid by donation, which earned a matching grant from Connect First Credit Union.

The society’s finance committee secured any available government support through the pandemic.

That didn’t solve all the financial woes, however, as the society ended with a loss of $29,069.

The Empress took in $273,306 in revenue, including $45,582 in federal grants and $9,472 in theatre rentals. Revenue was down from the budgeted amount of $350,927.

Expenses totalled  $302,375., which was down from the budgeted amount of $352,492.

“Obviously it was not a great year,” finance committee chairman Ryan Vanderploeg said in his report.

Positive developments last year included acquisition of storage space, Fun Movie Fridays for school children, and creation of a new policy handbook.

Many committee projects, including fund development and building restoration was limited by the pandemic.

Concerts and other bookings had to be cancelled due to pandemic rules on gathering and performances.

The Empress Theatre Society’s new board of directors includes president Denise Joel, vice-president Dona Guyette, secretary Pam Young, treasurer Andrew Walmsley and directors Chelsey Brown, Georgia Hansen, Jackie Nelson, Lacey Poytress and Ryan Vanderploeg.

Town of Fort Macleod representative is Coun. David Orr.

Denise Joel remains optimistic about 2020-’21 at the Empress Theatre, although it is not known when the theatre can resume programming.

“We truly are blessed to have this gem of a theatre and those who love it to keep it alive,” Joel said.