Saturday , 23 October 2021

The Grande Parlour to close after three years

A letter from Craig Konechny, President of CLES and owner of Beantrees Cafe

It is with heavy heart and careful consideration that The Grande Parlour Theatre will be closing January 2020.

Four years ago, when my wife Jen and I bought Beantrees Café, if you would have told me that the Arts could be the lifeblood of a community, I would have laughed. Now, I stand witness today, and feel otherwise. Never in a million years would I believe I would become so passionate about something to the point where I would risk everything I had. The Arts became my blood flow and the community support became my drug. This theatre has changed me in every way, and for that, I thank Teresa Pettit for introducing me to a new world, and for my wife Jen and this community for believing in it.

When Jen and I bought Beantrees Café I never would have believed that so much talent existed in this community. And when I met Teresa Pettit, I could see what it could truly become. When we started this venture called the Grande Parlour, we relied a lot on blind faith. In reality, we were completely naïve to what it takes to make something like this grow. We had a city parking bylaw (that has since changed for the better!) that made it near impossible to open something like this in the downtown core but, with community support, we overcame that. I believed that if we just built it, everything else would fall into place. And man alive did the talent and the community show up to support our vision! Our mission also evolved to where we wanted to be the foundation for an eventual arts school that would bring people to this community from across the country, just as Rosebud, Alberta has accomplished. Can you imagine?!

But with everything, the shine wears off and, over the past year, we have had to stop music performances due to lack of support and have seen tickets sales for theatre productions decline as well.

From the public to people that represent this community, there has been so much talk and hearsay about the relationship between Beantrees and the Grande Parlour that I wish to clear the air.

Beantrees Café:

For all out there that believe that Beantrees Café is laughing its way to the bank is more then welcome to buy my café. If you look up ‘Naïve” in the dictionary you will see Jen and my picture there. What we believed and what is reality are very different, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

In the beginning, the café having the space next door was critical for us to survive but you must understand we are not a night club with tons of liquor sales and the revenue and margins that go with that. The fact is if we are lucky to do $800-$1000 in revenue on any given show night and you subtract labor, material cost and overhead etc. etc. you are left with maybe $200. That is fact.

This is a latte and dessert crowd whom leaves by 10:30 and this is EXACTLY what we wanted to provide to this community, an alternative to the night clubs for an evening out of high-quality entertainment. As Beantrees has evolved, though, we have found other night events to host within our space. The theatres impact and role has changed to where we spend more supporting theatre operations and productions then it actually benefits the cafe. This again is fact and a reality that I am perfectly happy with supporting.

The Grande Parlour Theatre:

The first item I want to make clear is that the Grand Parlour is owned and operated by the Cold Lake Entertainment Society, of which I volunteer my time to as their current President of the Board. We started as a for profit business because Teresa and I had a clear vision and desire to build it as we saw fit but once we achieved that it became clear that we would need additional funding and help to evolve it to the next level.

The second item is the $50,000 we received this year in grant monies from the City of Cold Lake and MD of Bonnyville. This funding was bittersweet as it could only be used to purchase equipment and not to fund theatre operational or overhead costs where we needed it most. We were able to make the audience comfort level substantially better and their theatre experience enhanced. We were able to buy equipment we usually rent from Edmonton for each production, thus creating cost savings we could realize over time.

In order to cover the overhead costs of this space, we need to produce four successful theatre productions a year with six shows each (The Verge Festival does not count as that in itself is a breakeven event). Pair that up with a poor Alberta economy and a current lack of disposable income and it’s not a great picture. What also became clear recently is that to reach the goal of becoming an arts school in this community, we needed to fill the high demand for youth performing arts workshops. However, to hold more workshops, we needed to do less productions a year. So you can see the vicious “catch 22” in this. Less productions means less revenue. Less workshops means less chance of an arts school.

Another challenge we face is time. Teresa left a manager position at the Royal Bank to follow her dreams of running a theatre. The society can only pay her $500 every two weeks to be a full-time writer, director and slave. I volunteer 40 to 60 hours a week to this space doing set creation and design, all the marketing and posters design, delegations and meetings, financials and paperwork etc. etc. By this point in our evolution process, we naively thought additional funds would be coming in, to support an eventual income, but the reality is funding is near impossible and therefore not sustainable.

Another challenge is the significant time commitment from our actors. When you have four productions a year plus The Verge Festival, you have three to five rehearsals every week for the entire year…it does not stop. And our primary actors are in most shows which, over time, takes a toll on families and, in the end, production quality. But for them, the return on their investment is like a drug also. The impact this space has on the people involved is truly phenomenal. One comment I will remember forever will be from a 12-year-old boy who attended a youth workshop that told Teresa, “I did not realize I was special till I came here.” If you think that that is an isolated comment, please believe me, it is not.

Another challenge is the cost of the space. I cannot imagine this space anywhere where Beantrees is not as I feel they are so intertwined, but The Grande Parlour pays $54,000 a year to rent just the Grande Parlour side which is the exact cost of rent and not a penny more. I have tried numerous times to purchase the building that includes Beantrees Café so I can offer the space rent free to the Society but it is not possible and understand the reason and respect it. Overhead for the Grande Parlour on average each month usually reaches $15,000, which always blows my mind, but I am more than happy to sit down with anyone who is interested to review the financials. As time goes on, this cost will come down with acquiring of props, costumes and raw building material but as with any business, the first two years are the toughest.
I do feel to some degree, that I have let many people down. I started something with the help of so many people, with their belief in me, that we could pull it off. In the end though I am human trying my best and following what I am passionate about. It will also sadden me not to have an artisan’s market in this space anymore as I feel we have grown this market to be such an amazing event.

So, in January we hope to have enough revenue left over to box and catalog all our equipment and rent a heated storage space to store everything for another opportunity to present itself. If this doesn’t happen, we will sell off or donate the assets to another not for profit organization that will benefit greatly from our efforts.

Teresa and I would not have trade these last 3 years for anything and regret isn’t even in our minds. For myself I was able to do something I always dreamed of doing, to be part of something that impacted people’s lives and this community allowed me to do just that. We both feel this is a speed bump to something even more spectacular and I do hope it remains in this community, where the arts are so poorly represented.

I sincerely thank everyone that has been a part of this ride and as our mentor Kermit the Frog says “Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the Lovers, the Dreamers and me

Craig Konechny, Teresa Pettit and the CLES board of Directors

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