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Philip Riccio, left, and Christopher Hunt in 1979 at Alberta Theatre Projects. At performances of the show, audiences were encouraged before the curtain to make a donation as part of the Propel Us Forward campaign.

Facing a deadline of May 1 to raise $200,000 in an urgent fundraising campaign, Alberta Theatre Projects has announced that the Calgary company will be able to continue operating past next season, having raised the necessary money – and then some. ATP says it has raised about $250,000 – 125 per cent of its goal. Ninety per cent of the money came from the public – the rest from corporate sponsors and foundations – with about 780 individuals stepping up with a donation.

"For us there's a great feeling of joy," says Vicki Stroich, ATP's executive director. "The campaign was called Propel Us Forward and we feel like we've been propelled forward in the strength of that vote of confidence."

ATP, founded in 1972, announced the campaign in March. Its future was in danger, corporate sponsorship had dropped dramatically – 77 per cent – and if it did not raise a total of $400,000 by May 1, it would be unable to operate past 2018. With the Calgary Foundation stepping up with a one-time $200,000 grant, the rest would have to come from elsewhere.

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ATP launched a mobile giving campaign, where donors could give $20 by texting the word "forward." More than 475 people did; some right from their theatre seats. At performances of Gracie and 1979 – both new Canadian plays produced or co-produced by ATP and premiering this year – audiences were encouraged before the curtain to make a donation. Others sent in cheques or dropped off cash.

People also called or e-mailed to say, "How are you guys doing? I care. Is there anything I can do?" Stroich reports.

One donor said because of the economic downturn she wasn't sure she could renew her subscription, but wanted to give a small gift to ensure the theatre would still be there when she could return.

ATP has already been cutting costs: ending its long-running Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays, shrinking its season and eliminating some positions. Rather than replace outgoing artistic director Vanessa Porteous, Stroich herself will carry out that work with the assistance of the director of artistic programming.

One thing ATP officials heard a great deal of during this campaign is how important new Canadian play development is to their audiences. So even as ATP continues to look for ways to ensure sustainability – reconsidering the length of a play's run, for instance – one thing that won't be on the table is moving away from that commitment.

Ahead of announcing the campaign results in Calgary on Tuesday, Stroich said it has been an emotional time.

"We wouldn't have announced the campaign if we didn't reasonably think there might be some possibility of success, but by no means was success assured," she says. "It's scary to ask for help because there's the possibility that people might say 'Ah, no.' … But we also knew that we had a lot of friends in the community and that if you ask for help, there will always be some form of response. And that response ended up being quite overwhelming."

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