ORILLIA AREA COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
Mariposa Arts Theatre (MAT) has come a long way in its 53 years of existence, from humble beginnings with shows in St. Paul’s United Church and rehearsals in cast members’ living rooms, to mounting the incredible Rocky Horror Show, with a budget of over $70,000, to capacity crowds at the Orillia Opera House last fall.
This community theatre group’s success is due to a lot of things: a dedicated community of artists and producers, loyal audience members, a beneficial partnership with the Orillia Opera House. But nothing has been more of a game changer for Mariposa Arts Theatre than owning its own rehearsal and warehouse space.
Michael Clipperton, MAT board member, detailed how it came about.
“It was very difficult to put on shows with set design happening in one spot, costumes in another, and rehearsals in another," Clipperton explained. "And then to mount a quality production when the actors and director never got on the actual stage until the very last minute — very difficult. Board member Phil Hull spearheaded the idea of building our very own dedicated rehearsal and warehouse space. He also came up with the idea of hosting film nights to pay for it. About 15 years ago, the idea came to fruition.”
Clipperton explained that the money to buy the original lot came from the income from film nights, and the building, a “black box industrial building,” was built using a lot of volunteer labour and MAT members.
“The original mortgage was held by a generous person in the Orillia area,” Clipperton recalled. “It was at a favourable rate, and we just paid the interest and then, once a year, paid whatever of the capital we could afford that year.”
After about 10 years, that arrangement came to an end, and MAT had to go shopping for a mortgage. Dianne Richardson, MAT treasurer for over 20 years, takes up the tale: “The mortgage on our building was up for renewal in October of 2021 and we were shopping for a new mortgage holder. Someone — I’m not sure who — suggested that we approach the Orillia Area CDC. We were not aware that the Orillia Area CDC supplied this type of service, but we reached out to them.”
Richardson continued, “We started working with them and the whole experience was wonderful. We were able to obtain a mortgage with them at a favourable rate and with generous terms tailored to our organization. The CDC handled 95 per cent of the paperwork involved, which was a great help.”
The building is a towering warehouse space, with half dedicated to a rehearsal space, and half housing a workshop for set design, and storage for costumes and sets. There are washrooms and a catering kitchen as well. The rehearsal space is named after Phil Hull.
“Property ownership is a whole different thing for a theatre company. We are responsible for the taxes, utilities, and maintenance costs, so that is something we had to plan and budget for,” said Clipperton.
But the benefits of the space far outweigh the costs. MAT has an arrangement with the Orillia Opera House (OOH), whereby the OOH uses the MAT rehearsal space in the summer, for its summer theatre program, and the OOH in turn reduces the costs of MAT rental at the OOH for their shows. Both organizations sometimes borrow set pieces from each other as well.
“It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement,” said Clipperton. “Also, because we have this space, the quality of the work has changed remarkably. This area is almost the same size as the main stage at the Orillia Opera House. We can build the set here, and rehearse on the full set, moving it to the Orillia Opera House just before the show runs. Costumes are made and fitted here, sets as well, and we have storage for all of our items. This all saves so much time and hassle.”
With film nights continuing, three shows a year at the Orillia Opera House, summer Bard in the Yard shows at the Stephen Leacock Museum, and new, younger board and cast members coming into the organization, MAT is forging ahead with lots more goals in mind.
The group is trying out a pilot project of paying artistic staff for each show an honorarium. Mentorships for younger members who wish to learn about key roles — director, producer, stage manager — is an idea that is also being floated.
“Putting on shows is always a challenge,” concluded Clipperton. “Even smaller shows like Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward have a budget of $10,000. Art isn’t easy, but it is worth it.”
Thanks to the Orillia Area CDC, at least one aspect of this community theatre company’s planning is easy. Richardson finished by saying, “I would just like to say that our experience with the CDC was very, very helpful. Overall, we would rate the experience at a solid 10 out of 10.”
For more information about Mariposa Arts Theatre visit www.mariposaartstheatre.com.
For more information on the Orillia Area Community Development Corp. (CDC) visit www.orilliacdc.com or contact 705-325-4903, ext. 101.