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New staffer approved to help city realize potential of Opera House

Councillors agree to invest in technical assistant at busy downtown landmark; 'Looking at the numbers, I think the reason for hiring someone else is justified,' says Fallis

In 2013, the Orillia Opera House hosted about 250 events. This year, the iconic downtown landmark will host almost 600 events.

City staff believe there is even more potential in the grand old building at the corner of Mississaga and West - but to realize that potential, more staff is needed.

As a result, during budget deliberations last week they asked for - and received - an additional $14,000 to hire a full-time assistant technical director.

“Since 2012, the Orillia Opera House has seen a steady increase in rentals that is stretching current staffing resources,” read a report tabled during operating budget deliberations at city hall.

The full cost of the new position is $70,950. Almost $40,000 of that would come from the existing salaries budget while anticipated additional revenues of $17,500 would further offset the cost.

Coun. Jay Fallis, citing the comparable statistics of similar-sized theatres citedin the report, applauded staff for their success and was “in full support” of the new position.

According to that comparison of technical staff in other theatres, Orillia seems under-staffed.

The Opera House's Gordon Lightfoot theatre has 675 seats, while the smaller Studio Theatre has 104 seats. The facility has just one full-time technical staff despite a busy schedule of events throughout the year; this year there will be close to 600 events.

The Showplace in Peterborough is a similar size - its main theatre has 650 seats and their smaller theatre has 100 seats. However, they employ two full-time technical staff despite having 160 fewer events.

“Looking at the numbers, I think the reason for hiring someone else is justified,” said Fallis.

Coun. Pat Hehn agreed. She said her reasoning goes beyond the statistics.

“I see another spinoff,” Hehn said. “The more shows we have, the more tourists it brings to town. It’s not just a benefit to the Opera House, but to our downtown in general.”

Ray Merkley, the city’s director of parks, recreation and culture, said the new staffer is vital if council wants to see the downtown facility become busier. 

“There are certain times now that because of staffing and the amount of break we need to give technical people (that we are) not able to book at times,” said Merkley.

The facility’s current full-time technical director is responsible for assessing clients’ technical needs, working shows and rehearsals, scheduling part-time staff and overseeing the purchase and maintenance of technical equipment.

The current technical director is required to work many shifts - mostly nights and weekends - and must flex his hours to provide technical services to booking groups while adhering to the Employment Standards Act.

In 2018, the Opera House had 519 bookings and the facility was used 288 days. Those numbers will increase this year. 

Daytime usage is consistent at about 280 bookings. 

WIth the addition of a second technician, the schedule can be expanded to accommodate multiple events a day, which would translate into more revenue.

Coun. Ted Emond said “it’s important for this facility to have as much exposure and used to the highest degree possible.”

All decisions made during budget deliberations are subject to ratification at a special meeting of council Dec. 9.