Help me if you can, dear readers: What’s the collective noun for white elephants?
A boondoggle? A deficit? A delusion of white elephants?
I ask because, on Monday, Civic Theatres Toronto announced a “national public naming competition” − with a “great prize package valued at up to $2,500.00” awarded to whoever comes up with a better name than Civic Theatres Toronto for Civic Theatres Toronto.
CTT, for short (for now), is the bland bureaucratic name given to a trio of oversized, underused city-owned theatrical complexes − the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts; the Toronto Centre for the Arts; and the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts − when city council voted to merge their operations back in 2015.
Clyde Wagner, the former Luminato Festival producer appointed to the position of president and chief executive of the CTT in January of 2017, is now looking to Canadians from Victoria to St. John’s to help come up with a spicier moniker.
“It’s a new era for Civic Theatres Toronto and it’s time for a name that captures the excitement and scope of what we will be offering in our future programming,” Mr. Wagner says in a news release.
Mayor John Tory, or whoever writes these things for him, chimes in: “Civic Theatres Toronto is seeking a new name that better represents their future – a future pushing the boundaries of creativity though artistic excellence, education and public engagement.”
While on the one hand, we should thank the City of Toronto for not spending tax dollars on a branding agency, on the other, it surely would have make more sense for the CTT to tell Toronto (and the entire country, apparently) what its future holds before we were asked to come up with a name that better represents it.
After all, Mark Hammond, CTT’s vice-president of programming, will only be announcing the 2018-2019 season, the first since the amalgamation of the three theatrical complexes took effect last year, on May 9.
Naturally, the renaming contest is only taking submissions until April 27.
This is what we call “putting the cart before the horse” − and it’s exactly the type of municipal mishap-making that left us with this vexation of white elephants to name in the first place.
Opened in 1960, the Sony Centre (which older Torontonians still call the Hummingbird Centre or the O’Keefe Centre) is a 3,191-seat behemoth that hasn’t had a defining purpose since the National Ballet and the Canadian Opera Company decamped for their own home in 2006 − but which the city nevertheless decided to restore afterwards in renovations that were badly mismanaged and went way over-budget to the tune of $40-million.
The St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts was built as a (belated) centennial project in 1970 – and then was quickly remodeled in 1983 because of its, in the words of one consultant at the time, “over-spaced unfocused” original design. Its 876-seat main stage wasn’t built to house a theatre company − so, instead, a series of theatre companies have been built in order to fill the theatre (most recently, Canadian Stage, which now only uses it intermittently).
Last and perhaps least, the Toronto Centre for the Arts (originally the North York Performing Arts Centre before the city amalgamated) was constructed in 1993 for an actual theatre company − but, alas, it was Garth Drabinsky’s Livent, which declared bankruptcy all of five years later in 1998.
In 2016, the city decided to double down on the complex, spending $8-million to turn the main stage theatre into two smaller theatres – the Lyric and the Greenwin. But even these spaces, friendlier to not-for-profits, are still only used 40 per cent of the time by tenants such as the Harold Green Jewish Theatre.
A look at what the CTT is currently filling its auditoriums with is not helpful in coming up with a name for the umbrella group. The 574-seat Lyric’s next scheduled show will be the boundary-pushing example of artistic excellence, Shopkins Live! Shop it Live!
So, what do you call a group of mostly commercially sized theatres, too expensive and large for our not-for-profit performing arts groups to use, that sit empty half of the year and are subsidized to the tune of $5.1-million a year by Toronto citizens?
I was hoping that after a year and four months in his job, Mr. Wagner would be telling us – not the other way around.
“What’s in a name?” the Civic Theatres Toronto website asks, quoting Shakespeare’s Juliet. “Everything,” it answers itself.
Perhaps if there were artists involved in running these buildings ostensibly built for art, instead of CEOs and vice-presidents of programming, one of them might have pointed out that Juliet’s actual response to her rhetorical question is: “That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”
Here’s hoping the flowers that bloom in May when Mr. Hammond and Mr. Wagner unveil their programming plans smell a little better than this naming competition does.