Lessons from Canadian Businesses | Prairie Theatre Exchange

“We want to be responsible as a business and we want to be hopeful and optimistic, but we want to be realistic and pragmatic as well. How does one do that with complete uncertainty?”

The Business

Prairie Theatre Exchange (PTE) is a professional theatre company located in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The company annually offers up to 9 productions through their Mainstage, LEAP series and Munsch holiday productions. The company supports two theatres, the mainstage with seating for up to 323 and a smaller theatre that seats 80. In addition to play production, PTE also supports play development and education for both the public and artists.  A very busy hub of artistic activity, PTE employs up to 14 playwrights, showcases predominately Canadian work and is host to several world premieres.

The Challenges

  • Education and play productions had to be shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions. When the precautions were implemented, PTE had five productions on or about to start in three provinces including three world premieres.
  • The biggest challenge for PTE is uncertainty. As an arts organization that welcomes audiences their organization will be one of the last to be able to fully resume activities. Not knowing when that will be is difficult.
  • The two biggest impacts on the organization were financial (loss of revenue due to cancelled programs and performances) and emotional (it is very difficult as a theatre company to not gather and bring people together to share stories and experiences during this time).

The Response

  • The PTE team is doing all they can to decrease expenses so they can stay operation. They shifted to working remotely and continue to work hard to stay connected with their artists and staff as well as their audiences and stakeholders through personal emails, letters and phone calls.
  • PTE is focused on the 2020-2021 season, this is the time of year when the next year’s season is launched, so they have been able to continue to work and focus on what is ahead.

PTE created a special digital COVID-19 project:  INHALE/EXHALE – 90 Seconds to Breathe is a collaboration of musical compositions  featuring an isolated Winnipeg as the subject. The short videos (viewed by over 6000 people so far), invite us to slow down, to listen, to breathe. Says Thomas Morgan Jones, PTE’s Artistic Director, “On paper things have slowed down . . . but they haven’t really slowed down, in many ways they have accelerated as we figure out our new normal [and] how to cope. It’s nice to have 90 seconds to breathe”.

The Advice – What We Learned

  • It is ok if a decision you made in the morning does not seem reasonable by the evening. That is ok because you are in the moment and you are reacting in real time.
  • Be as flexible as possible.
  • Be transparent and communicate often with stakeholders. In a state of constant change not everyone will always know what is happening, so constant communication is key.
  • Stay connected to your staff, audiences, and stakeholders. Let them know you are thinking of them.
  • Try to give back and make donations if you can.

Prairie Theatre Exchange


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