Highland Arts Theatre Makes the Best of 2020

Photo by Chris Walzak

2020 has been a rollercoaster for everyone, and the Highland Arts Theatre is all too aware of how quickly things can turn on a dime... three or four times a day. In a year that nearly saw the end of the downtown Sydney theatre organization, it’s also showed them some of their highest highs, historic accomplishments, and numerous milestones.

The HAT Academy provided arts education to 493 children and youth participants through its various programs, including 55 scholarships that were awarded to children of BIPOC families (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour), Queer Youth and low income families. Another 45 scholarships will be awarded before the end of June.

During a year where nearly every theatre in the country found themselves unable to produce shows, the theatre still managed 243 performances on stage with 14,801 socially distanced attendees, over 6000 of whom attended with free tickets, and over 75,000 views online for their newly introduced free live-streamed performances.

With the help of Cape Breton University, the HAT also did a digital conversion to social media platforms for their “Tell Your Story” diversity project (currently being further re-imagined as a CBC Radio segment). A program designed to spotlight under represented voices in Cape Breton's theatre community.

September saw the first ever HAT Young Company Digital Concert featuring four up- and-coming student performers – with more than 18,000 viewers internationally.

Most of these community based projects and programs are thanks to the theatre’s newest program called Radical Access, designed to ensure anyone and everyone in Cape Breton can have access to the arts if they should so choose. The funding was raised during a 4 1⁄2 hour digitally streamed “Save the HAT Telethon Spectacular” featuring performers from across Cape Breton as well as guest appearances from celebrities like Debra Messing, Levar Burton, and Colin Mocherie (more than 40,000 views from around the world). The success of this campaign made history in Canada with the HAT becoming the first professional theatre to be fully funded by monthly donors, providing stability that allows that the organization to offer free mainstage performances to the public.

The success of the campaign garnered media attention from the likes of the New York Times, Globe and Mail, Global News, CTV, CBC Radio, Cape Breton Post, and so much more! Additionally, the organization has been recognized by Arts Nova Scotia as the recipient of their Creative Community Impact Award, as well as being named one of the Globe and Mail’s Canadian Arts Heroes of 2020.

While 2021 is sure to be full of surprises, the theatre can rest in knowing this incredible community of artists and patrons are so deeply resilient, creative, and innovative. 

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