Neptune’s COVID-19 funding request moves to Halifax budget committee

Neptune Theatre requests one-time emergency relief to help reopen this summer

Neptune Theatre in Halifax has requested a one-time emergency relief of $100,000 from the city to help it reopen during COVID-19.

The audit and finance standing committee voted on Thursday to request a staff report for the budget committee to look into this request.

“The timing of the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the theatre,” Lisa Bugden, general manager of Neptune Theatre, said in a presentation to the committee.

Neptune Theatre closed last March to respond to COVID-19 and help curb the spread, Bugden said. However, it adopted a digital content model to connect with patrons.

Spring activities generate 25 to 30 per cent of ticket sale revenue, Bugden said, including a season-ending musical.

Neptune Theatre has received $30,000 from the province in support for its digital content, and $75,000 for ongoing operational support, Bugden said during a question period.

Bugden said they’ve lost $4 million in revenue to date and have incurred more than $167,000 in contractual obligations to artists.

Jeremy Webb, artistic director of Neptune Theatre, also addressed the committee. He said cancelled activities during COVID-19 included a season-closing musical, annual fundraiser, and a school tour that reaches 10,000 students in HRM.

Neptune Theatre is working with suppliers and partners to restructure payments for outstanding payables, Bugden said.

Other supports include the Canada employee wage subsidy, and fundraising initiatives to support ongoing operation, Bugden said.

Reopening the theatre

Neptune Theatre requested the emergency relief for its fiscal year ending May 31 to help reopen production in late summer.

Neptune Theatre will reopen for an audience at 20 per cent capacity, Webb said.

“We fully expect to be operating under necessary and robust restrictions for the health and safety of our employees,” Webb said.

Webb said Neptune Theatre is planning a three- to five-year recovery period from COVID-19.

“Our industry was the first to completely close down and, in all likelihood, will be the last to fully reopen,” Webb said.

Neptune Theatre produces work from Atlantic Canadian and Canadian playwrights. In the last three years, Webb said, Neptune has started several activities and projects to reflect the community, including a mentorship training program for emerging artists, working with Autism Nova Scotia to present relaxed performances, and having American Sign Language performances.

“Neptune and its patrons inject more than $7 million in direct spending into the local economy every year,” Bugden said.

Budget committee and staff report

Coun. Shawn Cleary said the request was worthy of consideration.

“Hopefully we can find ways to work this into our budget and hopefully my colleagues will support that,” he said.

The municipality is not the level of government to provide COVID-19 financial support for organizations, Coun. Lindell Smith said.

While Smith raised concerns about how there might be a spike in requests from other groups looking for COVID-19 relief funding, he agreed that Neptune’s situation is a bit different.

“That could be something where folks could see the municipality as a place to get COVID-19 relief, we know many organizations who are dealing with that issue,” Smith said.

Coun. Paul Russell said since they are only asking for a staff report, they could debate Smith’s point when the issue comes to the budget committee.

The staff report will identify a source of funds and assess Neptune Theatre’s financials and confirm support from other levels of government.

Chelsy Mahar

Chelsy Mahar

Journalism student at University of King's College and aspiring poet. Want to talk story ideas? Reach out!

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