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The cast of the Chicago production of Hamilton, is shown in a handout photo.

Joan Marcus/The Canadian Press

You’d think the news this week that producers of Hamilton hoped to resume the hit musical’s Toronto engagement in the next 18 months – at the “earliest opportunity” – would have had theatre-goers cheering.

But Mirvish Productions’ decision to first reveal this information to those who had been waiting weeks for refunds to the show was a communications faux pas – and instead led to Toronto’s biggest commercial producer being booed by many ticket buyers on social media.

“We are writing to you because you had already asked for a refund – and that is perfectly fine,” read the e-mail from producer David Mirvish, sent on Thursday. “However, if you would like to have exclusive priority, you may want to reconsider and charge your option to a credit for Hamilton.”

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The e-mail went on to state that Mirvish Productions would wait for a response until May 14 – and then resume with refund requests.

This seemed like stalling to Erin Krausz, a Toronto resident who had already spent six weeks trying to get her money back for Hamilton tickets. She took to Twitter to voice her frustration.

In an interview, Krausz said she had been patient until this point – even though she felt previous communications from Mirvish had tried to “guilt” her into taking credit.

“Where I stopped being sympathetic was being offered a credit again – it was like they were never working on processing my refund all that time,” Krausz said. She added that, by contrast Ticketmaster refunded her tickets for a comedy show cancelled because of COVID-19 automatically.

Tal Shulman, a Toronto actor who had tickets to Hamilton for April 24, also took to Twitter to throw shade at Mirvish with a well-chosen GIF. He’s found communications from the theatre company confusing and, after initially thinking he’d get an automatic refund, filled out the online form to get his two weeks ago. “I’m waiting on $800, which could easily be rent," he said.

There’s a lot of sympathy out there for the performing arts right now. Not only do all theatre companies not have any new revenue coming in, many have to return money for shows that have had runs cancelled or cut short due to COVID-19, as Hamilton was on March 13.

At most not-for-profit theatres, there has been a gentle plea to consider donating the cost of ticket for a tax receipt – but commercial companies can’t ask that.

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Mirvish Productions had sold 250,000 advance tickets when the pandemic shut down their four theatre venues, and their policy has been to automatically give ticket buyers credit for future shows.

Refunds are available upon request, but the process to get one has, for some, been complicated – with prompts along the way suggesting that credit would be “the best way to support the performing arts” and, at one point, even “safer” than getting a credit-card refund.

After filling out an online form, some ticket holders have to wait for a call from a TicketKing agent, who then, to avoid seeming like a phishing scam, asks them to call back at TicketKing’s main number to pass along their credit-card details. (TicketKing is a subsidiary of Mirvish.)

Mirvish Productions says almost 50 per cent of refund requests for Hamilton and other shows have been processed at this point, and that TicketKing is working its way through about 2,500 tickets a day, proceeding chronologically through purchases. Still, it may take until the end of June for everyone who has asked for a refund to receive it.

There is a reasonable explanation for why this is taking so long. Mirvish changed its outdated ticketing system in February – and the data from the old system was transferred to the new one with the exception of credit-card numbers. (A spokesperson for Mirvish says that “by law” it could not migrate those.)

When Mirvish’s theatres were shut down, about 95 per cent of advance tickets had been sold through the old system – and this is why agents have to contact some ticket buyers directly – a process that has been further delayed by complications in setting up to remote working.

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“This could not have happened at a more inconvenient moment,” producer David Mirvish says.

But the impressario says he is not asking for any sympathy, and insists that, while he of course would prefer people take the Mirvish credit, everyone who wants their money back will get it back.

Mirvish had to lay off all but 46 of his company’s employees when his theatres were closed, but has since staffed back up to 115 thanks to the emergency wage subsidy. While he would like to see that measure extended for businesses such as his that will likely not be able to reopen until 2021, he’s not asking for anything else from government.

“We’re going to reach into our pocket and lose money every month until we can open again,” he says. “We’ll make money again some day.”

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