|There are two groups that take to Calgarys stages every year one with full-time jobs on the stage, and the other dividing its time between the working world and theatre. Once a year they both look back. Two days before Calgarys professional theatre community begins handing out the Bettys, the Calgary Alliance of Community Theatres (CAT) will be giving itself a pat on the back with the third annual CAT Awards, recognizing 14 companies and 28 productions.
In addition to a change in venue moving from the Vertigo Playhouse to the Epcor Centres Martha Cohen Theatre this year also marks the changing of the guard for CATs administration. After five years, amid the mounting pressure of his work in Fort McMurrays Long Lake oilsands project, founder Sean Anderson has been succeeded by Michelle Brandenburg as CATs president. Its a move Anderson sees as a reflection of Calgarys continually increasing growth and the increasing stress that can often drive volunteers away.
"With the population of Calgary growing so much, there often arent enough volunteers or volunteer time," he says. "People seem so stressed and stretched to the max with their day-to-day jobs and their lives, that theres nothing left to give, whether to theatre or other volunteer activities. And I know its not limited to theatre, there seem to be a lot of areas where the volunteers are not there, where in a growing city you would think there would be more people."
Despite the stress of Calgarys growth, or perhaps because of it, community theatre has remained an important outlet for its creators. While Anderson has resigned as CATs president, he remains the artistic director of Morpheus Theatre and the chair for the CAT Awards themselves. For theatre that thrives on the participation of volunteers with day jobs, the importance of recognizing the achievements of CATs more than 30 member companies remains important.
"Because this is a recreational activity, we were never out there boasting," says Anderson. "Now we get a chance to say Look, there are a lot of great shows, actors and volunteers despite the fact that they have full-time jobs and are stressed."
Of course, for people who create theatre without the financial incentive, the inherent competition of an awards ceremony may seem to add an undue level of antagonism exactly the kind of stress community theatre artists experience in their daily lives.
"We always get the complaints that awards make it competitive," concedes Anderson, "but I think weve done our best to make sure that the evening itself is about celebration and also promotion of community theatre."
This year demonstrates CATs own growth in the community, a potential success for its promotion at large. After last years event packed the 350-seat Vertigo Playhouse, this years festivities will take to Alberta Theatre Projects 480-seat home in the Martha Cohen Theatre. Continuing CATs promotion at large, this years CAT Awards will see a discontinuation of the theatre expo seen last year, in lieu of broader promotion in the community including a booth at this years Calgary Fringe Festival.
This years nominations, selected both by volunteer adjudicators and public input, represent a cross section of musicals and plays, with the adjudicators serving both as seasoned eyes on the season and critics providing feedback for the companies that opt to receive it. By the numbers, Front Row Centre leads the musical-producing companies, with 30 nominations, while Downstage Theatre leads play-producing companies with 13 all within the CAT Awards 22 categories.
Stress and Calgarys runaway growth notwithstanding, the CAT Awards are an opportunity to recognize the success of devoted artists who practice their craft with the time they are given. Its an accomplishment worth celebrating.