The Calithumpians, a Fredericton-based theatre group, are reaching out to the public after losing its primary source of income during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted: Will Pacey)

The Calithumpians, a theatre group based out of Fredericton, reached out to the public after losing its primary source of income during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Jan. 5, they started a GoFundMe to keep the group afloat during the pandemic. 

Will Pacey is the artistic director of the Calithumpians. He said the Calithumpians audience was down by 75 per cent.

“We lost a lot of revenue because of the tourist population sort of dwindling,” said Pacey.

As a non-profit theatre company, the Calithumpians gain support through provincial and federal grants. During their summer season, they received some help, but Pacey said they considered all of their financial options, including a GoFundMe campaign. This was an idea they had for a few years.

“There was a lot of decision making that went into it behind the scenes, you know, ‘Is this appropriate?’ kind of thing,” said Pacey. “Everybody’s struggling this year.”

He shared the GoFundMe on Facebook, explaining their situation and how the public can help.

“We’ve had a lot of really great support from former Calithumpians, friends and family of former Calithumpians, people who’ve come to our shows for years and years and people who just want to donate out of the kindness of their hearts,” said Pacey.

This year marked the Calithumpians’ 40th anniversary of producing free, family-friendly entertainment. In 1981, Pacey’s father Peter began outdoor summer theatre, now known as the Calithumpians, entertaining audiences in Fredericton’s historic downtown and throughout New Brunswick.

Now, his son is working to keep the Calithumpians alive in a pandemic.

Pacey said they are grateful for the outcome from the encouraging messages, people sharing the campaign on social media and hearing how valued and supported they are.

“To see the support from the community [and] from people who have been to our shows over all these years really does mean the world,” said Pacey.

Their performances began with a focus on Canadian poetry and folk music, but they have grown into a larger company over the years. They discuss social issues in their plays, offer drama camps for youth, haunted hikes, walking and motorcoach tours and perform at schools, all while using a comical yet educational approach. 

Will Pacey, the artistic director of the Calithumpians, stands next to what used to be the troupe’s performance space in this file photo. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, the Calithumpians toured schools throughout the province. They were at Seaside Park Elementary School in Saint John, which ended up being their last ordinary performance.

“We had to lay our workers off. We didn’t really know what to do,” said Pacey. “Everything seemed pretty hopeless, but we’ve been really lucky to be able to create and collaborate during this time.”

He said they questioned if their summer season would be possible. The guardhouse, which is their historical interpretation centre in downtown Fredericton, couldn’t open due to its small capacity. With this playing a great role in their summer season, Pacey said it was a loss.

But when the Atlantic bubble opened, they could continue most of their seasonal events like performances and drama day camps, with added safety procedures.

“We felt we had a successful [summer] season all in all and we felt really supported by the community,” said Pacey.

As the months advanced, so did the pandemic.

Pacey said they began the fall months preparing for another offseason typically centred around school performances. While still having their Halloween hike, indoor performances were cancelled and they had to rethink a virtual method for schools.

They began creating video packages, educational bundles and lesson plans to send to teachers. These included clips of scenes from old shows and new acts that they filmed and strung together.

The Calithumpians are now working on a collaborative children’s book series with Herman’s Monster House Publishing, run by former Calithumpian Paul McAllister. Pacey said they have been in contact about the tentative likelihood of opening the guardhouse as well. 

The communal support, said Pacey, is very significant right now due to losing their usual opportunities to connect with their audiences in person.

“It reconnects you to that time that you shared together.”