Provincial funding helps rebuild Stratford Theater Arts Training Group post-pandemic

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A provincial grant of nearly $40,000 has helped Stratford’s Off the Wall Artists Alliance recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure the continuation of its theater arts training programs into the future.

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With nearly $40,000 in provincial funding, theater arts training group Off the Wall Artists Alliance in Stratford is beginning to rebuild its programming after significant setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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On Friday, Off the Wall board members, staff and students met with Perth-Wellington MLA Matt Rae to show the MLA how a $38,500 Community Development Fund grant from the province and the Ontario Trillium Foundation helped the organization recover from the impact of the pandemic on its ability to teach the behind-the-scenes skills needed for theater production and return to revenue levels of before the pandemic.

“I am happy to be here today to recognize the great work they are doing and what they have been able to accomplish because of the Ontario Trillium Grant they have received,” said Rae. “…Because of this grant, (Off the Wall) has been able to adapt to pandemic measures, continue to operate its facilities and deliver programming in new and innovative ways.”

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Perth-Wellington MPP Matt Rae talks to students and instructors from the Off the Wall Artists Alliance Theater Arts Training Courses at Factory 163 on Friday evening.  Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network
Perth-Wellington MPP Matt Rae talks to students and instructors from the Off the Wall Artists Alliance Theater Arts Training Courses at Factory 163 on Friday evening. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network

The funds were used to hire staff focused on health and safety requirements as well as to support facility rental costs and the purchase of technical equipment and computer software to deliver online programs when in-person activities were not possible for the past two years.

However, Off the Wall estimates that its revenues fell by around 80% after March 2020, and when programming resumed last year, its capacity was significantly reduced.

“Most of Off the Wall’s courses involve hands-on training, a lot of physical work, and close proximity between students and instructors,” Michele Boniface, co-chair of the Off the Wall board of directors, said in a statement. Press release. “We have done a lot to adjust our physical teaching environments and have added many new protocols to keep everyone safe, but COVID has set us back significantly.

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“As we strive to return to pre-pandemic income levels, the Community Building Fund grant eases the pressure of increased facility rentals. The funds are also helping Off the Wall get back to business, safely, by covering the costs of a full-time health and safety coordinator and funding equipment to improve air quality in our teaching spaces.

And for Off the Wall students, that funding and all the extra work the organization has put into improving security to ensure programming continues is a big deal.

“I hope to one day become a professional prop maker,” said Sachi Belle, a prop making student at Stratford. “I went to college for design for theater and performance making, but since I graduated during the pandemic and a lot of my degree was online, I thought this would be really nice to brush up on some skills.

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“…It helped me get into college (in 2015) and now hopefully it will help me kick-start my career now that I’ve graduated and come back after everything was over. stopped.”

For 18 seasons, Off the Wall has offered a wide range of inclusive and accessible theater production courses to help develop the skills of professional, volunteer and novice theater artists. The work of Off the Wall students has contributed to many local theater productions and museum installations, and many of the instructors are the same professionals who help stage large and complex productions at the Stratford Festival.

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Off the Wall Artists Alliance Theater Painting student Candy McManiman shows off the scenic backdrop she painted over four days this week.  Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network
Off the Wall Artists Alliance Theater Painting student Candy McManiman shows off the scenic backdrop she painted over four days this week. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network

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