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Curtain looking to stay up at ATP

In the midst of what is arguably its most important fundraising campaign, Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) has announced an impressive upcoming six-play season.

In the midst of what is arguably its most important fundraising campaign, Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) has announced an impressive upcoming six-play season.

Earlier this year, the 45-year-old company announced that it was in financial trouble due in no small part to the downturn in the economy. With corporate sponsorship down by a whopping 77 per cent, ATP announced March 1 that in order to stay afloat it needed to raise $200,000 by May.

After only a month had gone by, Ashley Meller, director of marketing and communications announced that half of that amount had been raised.

“The coming season is already secured,” she explained in late March, “but beyond that may not happen unless another $100,000 can be raised by the end of April.”

Meller added at that time that individual sponsors have been stepping up to the plate.

“We're half way there, but we need the full amount to propel us forward beyond that,” she said.

But today, she is feeling a little more optimistic.

“We're at 86 per cent of our target,” she announced in late April, adding a May 2 spring block party will hopefully seal the deal. The party is a celebration to wrap up the current season, and look forward to the new one.

“We're very happy and very grateful to everyone who has supported us,” Meller says.

The theme of the six play line-up actually mirrors the thrust of this ambitious fundraising project.

Entitled Defy Expectations, the line-up includes a romance, a sexy political thriller, and a classic children's story the whole family can enjoy.

Artistic director Vanessa Porteous says it's the nature of Albertans to defy expectations.

“We're sharing six audacious stories that will inspire, challenge, thrill and bring us together to celebrate the incomparable power and potential of the human spirit,” she says.

First up is The Last Wife by Kate Hennig, a modern-day re-imagining of Katherine Parr's marriage to King Henry VIII.

Following that is To The Light, a meditation on loss and power of friendships, inspired by Virginia Woolf's novel To The Lighthouse.

Charlotte's Web needs little explanation, but is a stage adaptation of E.B. White's beloved children's classic about the friendship between a pig and a spider. Meller explains that the traditional family holiday show runs for a bit longer than the others to give everyone the opportunity to see it.

“It's suitable for anyone over the age of five that can sit reasonably still for about an hour and a half,” she chuckles.

Empire of the Sun is a funny and poignant one-man show about former CBC broadcaster Tetsuro Shigematsu's difficult relationship with his father. The show has already played in other Canadian cities and always sells out. This is ATP's entry into the 32nd High Performance Rodeo and is a co-presentation with One Yellow Rabbit.

Constellations is an unlikely love story between a beekeeper and a physicist that plays out between parallel universes, and rounding out the lineup is Glory, a musical about four girlfriends who set out to prove that hockey is not just a sport for men. The story is inspired by the Preston Rivulettes and Canada's first national women's hockey league.

Meller says determining the line-up of plays is trickier than one might think. “It's a pretty involved process,” she explains. “Actors are our biggest expense. We have to take into account how many are from Calgary, and we try to incorporate gender balance, artists of colour and so on. It's not an easy task.”

And who knew a visit to the theatre was about so much more than simply entertainment?

Patti Pon is Calgary Arts Development president and CEO.

She points to longitudinal research proving that people who have five or more arts experiences each year are more likely to be citizens who contribute positively in their communities.

“They have more citizen engagement tendencies, larger numbers of voter turnout, and they are much more likely to volunteer,” she explains, adding that though some companies like ATP are struggling in the wake of the recession, audience numbers in Calgary are actually rising with 3.7 million people attending performances annually at 149 venues around the city.

“So we know there's a fundamental belief in the importance of the arts,” Pon says. “Our job is to determine how we build on that.”

For more information about the upcoming plays, the May 2 block party, ticket information and how to help support the company financially, visit