The drive to Rosebud, Alta, has been likened to a pilgrimage.
"You shed your jobs. You shed your lives," said Morris Ertman, artistic director of the Rosebud Theatre. "When you arrive here, you're ready to be entertained, challenged, wooed, brought in."
The theatre, an hour and half drive northeast from Calgary, draws in close to 41,000 patrons per year — that's 41,000 patrons to a town that has fewer than 100 citizens.
"There's a town in Europe where they make a certain clock. Everyone's employed by the clock factory," Ertman said. "It's like that. There are 100 people in town and the majority of those people are employed by the theatre."
The rest largely make their living working for businesses supported by the patronage of those coming to see the shows put on by the theatre.
The theatre's latest production is "The Gifts of the Magi" — a musical re-telling of the old story of Jim and Della, two lovers who give up everything for each other.
Jim and Della, a newly married couple just scraping by, are desperate to find the perfect Christmas present for each other while not even making enough money to pay for their apartment.
The play, based on the classic Christmas story by O. Henry, aims to bring the sights and sounds of old New York to rural Alberta.
Cassia Schramm, 24, plays Della. She graduated from the Rosebud School of the Arts in September and was promptly cast in the latest production.
"I love it here. I'm happy to stay as long as I can," Schramm said. "One of the things I've learned from being part of the community, being part of the school — more than anything Rosebud encourages you to find your own voice."
This focus on creativity means the economy and attitude of Rosebud is largely artistic, says Randall Wiebe, a 25-year resident of the town. A painter and a teacher, Wiebe said he feels Rosebud encourages creativity as a way of life in a way other communities do not.
"My parents told me, 'don't go into the arts. You can't make a good living,'" Wiebe said. "I can't tell you how many people I meet later in life who say, 'man, people scared me away from my dream and I just haven't been happy.' The smallness of the community and the focus on creativity has brought together the town's 100-odd residents, united behind a singular purpose.
"It's great. It's like 'Cheers' — everybody knows your name," Ertman said. "If there's anything we crave as humans, it's community. And in this place we have community. We know one another. We shoulder together."
"The Gifts of the Magi" opens on Nov. 4 and runs until Dec. 23.
- By Joel Dryden