Teresa Wright
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Battle of the Annes

Are two Anne of Green Gables musicals too many for Charlottetown?

That is the question this summer in Prince Edward Island’s capital city, where, for the first time ever, two different musical theatre productions featuring Prince Edward Island’s famous fictional redhead have been mounted — just across the street from one another.

But though they may be neighbours with a heroine in common, the two productions are far from ‘kindred spirits.’

That’s because, if it were up to the Confederation Centre of the Arts, their ‘Anne’ musical would remain the only one in town.

Eight months ago, after news emerged The Guild theatre was looking to mount a production of the ‘Anne’ sequel Anne & Gilbert in Charlottetown, phones began to ring.

By that time, numerous tourism and business organizations had thrown their support behind the idea, seeing it as great way to draw more Anne of Green Gables tourists to the downtown core.

Discover Charlottetown, the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I., the Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Charlottetown Inc., the Anne Partnership and the City of Charlottetown all wrote letters of support for the production.

But not everyone was happy to see another ‘Anne’ in town.

“A production of Anne & Gilbert in Charlottetown would have a very negative impact on our production of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical,” Jesse Inman, CEO of the Confederation Centre of the Arts, wrote in a letter obtained recently by The Guardian.

The letter, dated Nov. 19, 2012, was a response to one sent by Anne & Gilbert producer Campbell Webster two weeks prior.

Webster had heard the Confederation Centre had contacted some of the groups that had endorsed his show, expressing “concern and opposition” about their plans for Anne & Gilbert at The Guild.

“Numerous supporters within governmental and non-governmental organizations had expressed their concern to us that they were receiving direct opposition from the Confederation Centre to our production,” Webster said in an interview.

That’s when he wrote to Inman, pitching the idea of working together. He suggested two Anne musicals across the street from one another could create an ‘Anne musical zone’ and the two shows could partner together to market and offer packages that could be mutually beneficial to both productions.

“There can be great benefit in promoting the two musicals together,” Webster wrote to Inman on Nov. 1, 2012.

“We think we have a wonderful opportunity and would like to extend a generous hand to help both musicals reach their maximum potential.”

The Confederation Centre was not interested.

“The offering of Anne & Gilbert in such close proximity would not be an advantage to the Confederation Centre of the Arts, as it would be a drain on our first time and repeat ticket sales,” Inman wrote. “We do not believe that tourists will go to two Anne theatre performances in the same city.”

She also suggested a partnership would not work because the two shows are of a different calibre.

The “elaborate costume design and state-of-the-art theatre projections and scenery” at the Confederation Centre makes their show a “unique Class A theatre experience,” Inman wrote.

“Endorsing another theatrical ‘Anne’ product that is less expensive and which offers fewer theatrical elements would dilute the brand and jeopardize a cultural entity that we, our funding partners and sponsors have spent millions of dollars and 48 years developing.”

In an interview this week with The Guardian, Inman stood by her decision to refuse to cooperate with The Guild in an Anne musical partnership.

While the Confederation Centre is a federally funded national arts centre, 60 per cent of the facility’s revenues come from the Charlottetown Festival and other productions. Anne of Green Gables: The Musical is the centre’s flagship production, which makes it vital in the financial viability of the entire facility.

“We must be aware of other attractions that would draw traffic away from our building, because if we see reduced ticket sales to Anne of Green Gables: The Musical, we’d have to find another means to generate revenue to maintain the overall financial stability of the Confederation Centre,” Inman said.

“It would be very negative if Anne didn’t meet its targets.”

Despite her concern over another ‘Anne’ show in Charlottetown, Inman says she did not try to convince the tourism and business organizations that endorsed Anne & Gilbert to rescind their support. She says she merely raised concerns about the impact it could have on the Confederation Centre’s ‘Anne.’

The Guardian contacted many of the organizations in question, and most of them said it is not their role to pick and choose which projects or initiatives to support. Anything that draws visitors and generates revenues for downtown Charlottetown is seen as a good thing by the associations that represent businesses and tourism in the capital.

And when it comes to Anne, the more the merrier, says Henk van Leeuwen, outgoing executive director of Culture P.E.I., which is dedicated to developing cultural business endeavours in Prince Edward Island.

“Two ‘Annes’ are not too many. I am elated that there are two Anne productions in downtown Charlottetown and across the street from each other,” he said.

He believes The Guild’s notion of teaming up to make that area of the city an ‘Anne zone’ would be a great way to capitalize on the seemingly endless stream of seasonal visitors looking to show their love of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel by travelling to P.E.I. and soaking up all things ‘Anne.’

“I think this presents nothing but opportunities for everybody involved,” van Leeuwan said.

“This town is too small for entities or cultural venues to work in isolation. I fully respect and appreciate that every individual cultural venue has to make its way financially, but if you’re growing buzz about Anne of Green Gables-inspired productions, musical or otherwise, then you’re going to attract more people to the area where these offerings are going to be located.”

The two productions are instead going head-to-head this summer, but Webster says he remains eager to work together with the Confederation Centre to grow audiences for both ‘Anne’ shows.

“I don’t know if the idea of reconciliation and working is completely dead in its tracks, but we’d love to do it. We think it will float all boats a little higher.”

Organizations: Confederation Centre, The Guild, Tourism Industry Association Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce Downtown Charlottetown Anne Partnership Class A theatre

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Green Gables, Prince Edward Island

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Recent comments

  • Cecil
    November 18, 2014 - 19:59

    The uncomfortable truth is that Anne & Gilbert is the far better show.

  • A literary tourist
    August 06, 2013 - 21:50

    I recently visited PEI and made a point of seeing both shows! I think Charlottetown theater benefits from sharing more of Anne Shirley's story than just the first novel in the series. The more mature themes of "Anne & Gilbert" are sure to draw more young people and twentysomethings like me to island theater, while "Anne of Green Gables" remains a show for the whole family. I was thrilled to see that both productions were in town as I began booking my trip to PEI.

  • Small Business Owner
    July 22, 2013 - 08:07

    Confed centre is a real estate business. It should get out of show production and let touring companies and producers like Webster bring their own show content to the Confed Centre stage. Competing with private productions, and other non-facility management services is unfair, when you are 40% government funded. Running three shows exclusively produced by the government is NOT a Festival. The very word of festival implies that there is a variety of entrants...

  • The Observer From Stratford
    July 21, 2013 - 06:28

    Why is this surprising? The Confed. Centre Is a government operation. It believes in monopolies. The comment from Ms. Inman about a "Class A" production reeks of elitism and snobbery. Need I remind you of their almost total disinterest in The Nine Lives Of Lucy Maude Montgomery when that show was looking for a home? Putting Anne of Green Gables, Anne & Gilbert and The Nine lives together would have been a no-brainer for cross promotion. Sadly this is an opportunity missed that could have helped struggling downtown Charlottetown.

  • Islander
    July 20, 2013 - 18:21

    Perhaps Ms Inman should be spending less time looking down her nose at the Anne & Gilbert production and realize that the Confederation Center doesn't own the rights to 'Anne'. For her to suggest the Anne & Gilbert production will dilute the brand and jeopardize the cultural identity is an insult and a slap in the face of the people involved in this production. The Guild has to make money to support itself also, not just the Confed Center. I haven't taken in any of the Anne productions this year and wasn't really planning to, until now. The Guild and Anne & Gilbert will be getting my patronage and my dollars after this uppity and shameful attitude by Ms Inman and the Confed Center. Shame on her and shame on the Confed Center.

  • Elizabeth
    July 20, 2013 - 17:51

    I have seen Anne of Green Gables the Musical too many times to count and each year the story still touches my heart. However the past few years I have found the direction and Artistic Direction have gotten stale. Anne's story still pulls through but the changes made by Annie Allen and others who have been there for so many years do not have any modern or interesting new take. The changes made a few years ago seemed forced and sometimes overshadow the real story. Anne and Gilbert on the other hand seems new and fresh, the whole production just seems more exciting. Although the story I don't find as touching or the songs as memorable the artistic direction is superb as well as the cast. The Confederation Centre has had the same artistic director and team for many years now and I and many people believe that it is a time for change in that area. Anne remains a draw for tourists but the other shows even with such talented casts do not draw crowds because they are not keeping up with the trends in musical theatre these days. Years ago the 2nd mainstage show would feature things that were popular in the theatre world at the time now they all seem to be done with the same type of direction which shouldn't happen if the Confed Centre wants to keep drawing crowds. You cannot continue to grow and get better if you do not accept change and that is what I think the Confederation Centre needs to do if they want to compete with other productions and theatres who continue to evolve while the Confed Centre does not.

  • Cb
    July 20, 2013 - 09:44

    Survival of the fittest... If its going to negatively impact the confed centre, may the best show win then... I think confed centre simply doesn't like competition.

  • Ella
    July 20, 2013 - 08:33

    Folks! Get a grip! There is room for both shows! Anne is a fictitious character. It is not like she is going to come back to haunt anyone. Let the artistic genius of both shows continue and celebrate the writer who was a real person.. It is a respect thing!

  • stop it
    July 20, 2013 - 06:14

    Why is the Guardian encouraging conflict with a ridiculous headline like that? This is not the Hunger Games.

  • Love PEI, Love Anne Productions
    July 20, 2013 - 05:43

    I say WORK TOGETHER! I have enjoyed BOTH shows and would wholeheartedly endorse both as fantastic. Why not do a package special - or a Mavor's special feature for anyone with an Anne & Gilbert ticket? A discount or a benefit of some kind at The Guild for Anne of Green Gables ticket holders (maybe a free coffee at Timothy's?) Come on Confed Centre - if you do what you always done you will get what you've always gotten. An attitude of "all or nothing" may end up casting a shadow that reaches further than that of a building on a hot summer's night.