Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star in Annette. Photo courtesy Nelson Civic Theatre

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star in Annette. Photo courtesy Nelson Civic Theatre

LARGE POPCORN, EXTRA BUTTER: A musical year at The Civic Theatre

Jason Asbell writes about the upcoming musicals playing at the theatre

Although there has been a recent rise in cases in our region, through continued vigilance and vaccinations, the COVID-19 loom has revealed cracks letting back in some light, albeit smoke-diffused, and given us a much needed infusion in socialization and, dare I say, a reason to sing?

If the movie dream machine echoes the present human condition at all, it looks like that is the case. 2021 is turning out to be the year of the Musical! Following up the Capitol’s return to public performance with the Summer Youth Theatre musical Little Women and The Civic’s recent run of In the Heights, we have tentatively scheduled Cannes’ best director-awarded Annette for Aug. 25 and 26, providing a star-studded precursor to Dear Evan Hansen, which will screen in the fall and Spielberg’s new interpretation of West Side Story at the end of the year.

And aside from these clearly defined examples of the musical genre, we also hear the music in the wonderfully portrayed biopic of Aretha Franklin in Respect also tentatively scheduled for our fall calendar.

The light is back on screen and the ear is ready for the music, but here’s the rub: the last year has put us in a tricky financial position, and in order to recoup our losses from our mandated seven-month closure, we are having to make the tough decision to prioritize films that that will have higher box office income. This means that the higher risk limited release titles that I love (and I know many of you do too) may need to take a back seat until we rebound a bit.

To better understand the situation, I’ll explain how costs are determined for the public performance rights of a distributor’s movie content.

To show a film, we have to commit to a minimum fee (guarantee) or a percentage of gross box office, whichever is higher. What this means for our arthouse offerings (which we can usually only screen once) is that we have to make at least the minimum while covering all our operational costs in the one screening. You can perhaps see how with more niche films this carries some risk. Sometimes if a really small audience comes to a show, it can even end up costing us money to have been open, because we didn’t make enough at the box office to cover the minimum.

With the mainstream content, which has enough popular appeal that we can commit to four or more screenings, we have the luxury of spreading our box office receipts over time, so we never have to pay the guarantee. Word of mouth from local audiences (which is impossible for a single night engagement), along with huge marketing from the distributors for their bigger titles, brings the risk down for mainstream engagements considerably.

However, I know (because I am part of it) that there is an audience for these smaller artistic, sometimes challenging, titles, so I don’t want to give that side of our programming up without a fight. Yes, from a risk analysis standpoint, the indie titles we tend to show on Thursdays do pose a higher risk, but there is no risk at all if arthouse and musical lovers vote with pre-purchased tickets.

A few years ago, we experimented with crowdsourcing interest for some really niche titles and it worked. So we are going to do it again: if we see 75 advance tickets purchased for Annette by Aug. 16 at midnight we will bring it in on Aug. 25 and 26. So please, if you want to see and sing along with Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver on the big screen, please show your support of this and future limited release arthouse titles, by voting with your tickets.

I’ve been told that Driver gets hotter with every role. Check out the trailer and get your vote on with your pre-purchased ticket from our box office or online at civictheatre.ca/whats-on.

Jason Asbell is the programming director and so-so karaoke singer for The Civic Theatre.