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.”