Friday, March 16, 2012

So what do you think about the closing of the Playhouse Theatre?

It's about a week since the very sudden announcement that Vancouver's Playhouse Theatre is closing down. It was a topic of conversation during our most recent Civic Affairs Panel discussion on the Bill Good Show, and also at the Roundable, a discussion group I belong to that meets every Tuesday at the Vancouver Club. We had a particularly able person to chair the discussion....Christopher Gaze, who was filling in for current Chair Geoff Plant.

While I don't profess to have any special knowledge or insight, I have been asked by so many people what I thought about the situation that I've decided to reprint a slightly modified version of some comments I posted on Frances Bula's Blog earlier this week:

I agree with those who question why the City put $$$ into the Playhouse about a year ago without a proper well conceived business plan in place .

(ED Note: Now, to be fair, I don't really know if they presented a well conceived plan or not...but so many people have told me that there have been systemic problems with the Playhouse financial structure and operations, and these did not appear to be addressed at all over the past year.)

There is no doubt that the Playhouse productions lost their appeal for a lot of people which is one reason why season subscribers dropped from approx 10,000 to 4,000. As economist Roz Kunin told a luncheon discussion group I belong to, this doesn’t happen over night…why was it allowed to happen without much more noise?

I haven’t been to a production for a few years and suspect that most Fabula readers haven’t been for a while either, or maybe never at all….

As I noted on CKNW, regardless of the production values, the marketing program has certainly not been as strong as for other theatrical organizations. (Bard…Arts Club, etc.) I never received direct mail telling me about new Playhouse productions and urging me to attend. And I get invitations to dozens of events each week….

There is no doubt that the business arrangement with the City was a poor one and it has caused problems for decades…The fact that the revenues from the bar go to the City, not the production company is one small problem; the fact that the sets had to be taken down and reassembled by union crews on a regular basis to accommodate a musical production is another…And of course the rental payment and lack of adequate grant arrangements didn’t help….

Some people believe part of the problem was the character of the neighbourhood…few nearby bars and restaurants to patronize before and after theatre…reduced and less accessible and overly expensive parking, a pretty dead zone….

But regardless of whether the Playhouse should continue or not, one thing that seems to have shocked everyone is the suddeness of the announcement and the fact that all the people who have supported the Playhouse in the past….Board Chairs, Directors, regular theatre goers….had absolutely no idea the situation was so dire…and many who have contacted me since this morning’s Bill Good Show have said they would have liked to have had the opportunity to discuss the situation and try and help.

So I predict that we may see some people come forward, as they did after the announcement that the Bloedel Conservatory was closing. Whether they can (or should) resurrect the Playhouse, or begin the process to create another company more relevant for the city and the times remains to be seen.

But I do hope that something is done since the sudden death of the Playhouse does not seem quite right…and I agree that it does not reflect well on the City.

I’m also curious to hear whether people think this might also be just the beginning…how’s the symphony doing? how’s the Opera doing? I think I know part of the answers and it doesn’t bode well for Vancouver….


Frank Murphy said...

There seems to be some confusion. Just to be clear: It's the theatre company that's failed, not the hall itself. I would think there would be no shortage of uses for a first rate 650 seat theatre. It's a shame to see any arts organization go down — and I support continued and increased government arts subsidies — but was it ever viable or even desirable to have an "official" city sponsored theatre company? Seems pretty top-down, no?

Anonymous said...

i am very sad about this decision. seems like this old establishment was right in the middle of the olympic hubbub and managed to suffer from it. as a young art school student, i lived in this area and worked at the playhouse, orpheum and queen e. i can't count the number of times i ushered and watched, 'same time next year,' in this sweet old theatre. we are losing a huge chunk of our theatrical and arts history with its closing. there must be a way of saving it. what a huge waste.

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