Efforts continue to try to save the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company despite the announcement on Friday that the company, saddled with a debt of as much as $1-million, would be shutting down after the next night’s performance.
Buoyed by the support over the weekend on social media and at protests outside the theatre, board chair Jeff Schulz is not closing the door on a rebirth.
“We’re trying to figure out if we can organize a campaign in time to make something happen,” Mr. Schulz said. “We’ve got requests in to a number of organizations, so we’re still working to hold on.”
Since Friday’s shocker announcement, theatre types have been coming up with creative ways of protest: a play-reading outside the theatre Monday afternoon; a flashlight vigil during the company’s final show; playwright Lucia Frangione writing out the text of her work-in-progress Diamond Willow in chalk on Sunday, stretching from the theatre to the steps of Vancouver City Hall.
Despite some editing, it took her eight hours and 15 boxes of chalk. The backbreaking task may not have saved the company, but it did attract some attention.
“Many people came up and said, ‘We heard about this on the news. How is this possible? We’re horrified. We’re shocked. Who do we write to? How can we help? Who do we give money to?’ ” Ms. Frangione said.
The wave of campaigning to save the Playhouse (the theatre company, not the city-owned theatre space of the same name) now includes an online petition “declaring that the closure is not acceptable.” By late Monday afternoon, the petition had attracted nearly 1,000 signatures.
And it was all creating some hope for a day of deus ex machina where on Friday there seemed to be none.
“If somebody came forward or somebodies, there’s still the possibility of resurrection,” Mr. Schulz said.
Both the city and the province have indicated they will not be that somebody. Federally, there is funding available to endangered arts organizations, but a declaration of bankruptcy protection is necessary for eligibility, and the Playhouse did not go that route.
Nor will that somebody be Telus, according to company spokesperson Shawn Hall. “We are not in a position to be their sole funder,” he said late Monday, responding to messages posted outside the theatre during Saturday night’s vigil calling on Telus to jump on board, now that its naming-rights deal for BC Place has gone sideways. He added that Telus has donated about $250,000 to the Playhouse since 2000.
“People are e-mailing all kinds of suggestions about corporate sponsors,” Vancouver Councillor Heather Deal said on Monday. “And if one of those fell out of the sky, I would be thrilled. But I think what any sponsor would need to see is that its operating strategic plan is solid and sustainable.” Ms. Deal repeated that there would be no further municipal support after last year’s bailout of nearly $1-million.
The business model (among other issues, there is no operating grant from the City of Vancouver and the theatre company has to rent the facility from the city) is unsustainable, according to Mr. Reimer and Mr. Schulz – a belief that is shared by many others, including some fighting to revive it.
“We’re hoping that the Playhouse can be reborn, can phoenix out of the ashes with a different construct,” Ms. Frangione said. “Because the people involved, the artists involved, the vision of the theatre involved from 49 years ago can’t go away.”
Some people in the theatre community have expressed frustration at not being given an opportunity to help when help was possible.
“Usually when a theatre company is really struggling, there’s a more public campaign to save the company and that didn’t happen. This was very sudden, so the artists feel like we need our voices to be heard,” said actor Colleen Winton, who organized the play-reading protest. “We just want to make sure that all of the avenues have been explored before this theatre company … is allowed to shrivel up and die.”
When asked on Saturday night why he didn’t go public with a campaign to save the Playhouse, rather than just fold it, Mr. Reimer said: “I’ve done that, in red ink. People think you’re crying wolf.”