I was devastated last week to hear the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company is closing due to financial struggles.
But the closing has little impact on my life today. My partner and I haven’t been able to afford theatre tickets, which start at approximately $50 each for regular shows, since he lost his job in the automotive industry two years ago, so whether the Playhouse continues is a moot point for us.
But in the bigger picture, the death of the company is not a good sign. Theatre tickets, dining out and even a night at the movies are the first luxuries to go when money gets tight. And we’re not the only ones struggling to get by in a city as famous for its cost of living as for its spectacular scenery.
World-class cities are as known for their arts scenes as their transit systems or parks. And with Vancouver vying for its place as a world- class contender, particularly since the 2010 Olympic Games, the closure of yet another arts venue is a black eye for this city’s arts and culture scene.
Comments I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter blame the famous habit of Vancouverites for purchasing tickets at the last minute as adding to the Playhouse’s financial woes. But a ticket is a ticket no matter when it’s purchased.
Theatre lovers who can’t afford a ticket probably did the best job of putting the Playhouse’s bottom line in the red.
The Playhouse’s money problems are not new. Last year, the city granted the company $500,000 in cash, another $400,000 of in-kind services and forgave much of its debt to the city for staffing and services. The actual Playhouse theatre, part of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre complex, is owned by the city but leased to the Playhouse at a discount. The city is now attempting to rent the Playhouse out for other performances to make back some of the lost revenue.
A news story in the Vancouver Sun this week described the Playhouse company’s generosity to other theatre groups. While commendable, that seems a little too right-brained. Just as we as a family have cut back on many activities and luxuries due to tough financial times, perhaps the Playhouse needed to get its books in order before giving away the farm.
In the Sun story, a theatre spokesperson describes how the Playhouse not only donated the use of its recital hall to a small company at no charge, a $10,000 value, it also allowed that troupe to keep the ticket revenue.
Keeping in mind the city’s $1 million bailout, imagine loaning your adult child enough money to live on for a year because they’d lost their job, only to discover they had the opportunity to make money but chose to work for free. The Sun story offers several examples of the Playhouse’s generosity, including offering great deals on costume rentals, and the Playhouse has been credited for helping more than 100 smaller theatre companies.
In a perfect world, that willingness to assist budding artists and theatre troupes would be worthy of the Order of Canada. In today’s uncertain economic times, it’s more deserving of a stern talking-to from a bank manager.
Maybe the Playhouse decided it was better to take the moral high ground and continue to help as many young theatre groups as possible while slowing sawing off its right foot. And while I’m sure there are other issues that contributed to the Playhouse’s downfall, at a time when the disposable income of most Vancouverites is shrinking and theatre tickets are for many a luxury, perhaps this might have been the time for a little tough love.