Theatre Ontario, which has spent close to half a century supporting and advocating for theatre in the province, is on the verge of folding due to government cuts.
The service organization posted a notice on its website on Thursday, announcing its impending closure. Its board of directors has recommended winding down Theatre Ontario and is putting the resolution to a membership vote on Oct. 26.
Theatre Ontario staff and board members are choosing not to comment prior to the vote. However, they did confirm that the proposed closure was prompted by cuts to its operating budget and training programs from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). The OAC’s own funding from the province was slashed by $10-million this year when the Doug Ford government released its spring budget.
The news has already generated an outpouring of anger and sympathy on social media. Antoni Cimolino, artistic director of the Stratford Festival, tweeted that Theatre Ontario’s closure would be “a major loss. A loss especially for our young artists and therefore to the future of theatre in our province.”
Theatre Ontario’s services include the Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) and the Youth Theatre Training Program (YTTP). Both programs lost their funding in June. In the past, the organization received $114,000 from the OAC to run them.
The long-running programs, which were introduced shortly after Theatre Ontario was founded in 1971, would be particularly missed. They provided financial aid for training and supporters say they were invaluable to people beginning their careers in the theatre.
The Ontario Arts Council referred any queries about funding cuts to the province’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Ministry spokeswoman Brooke Timpson said the OAC “is doing its part to help support the government’s efforts to operate within the current fiscal climate and made the difficult decision to reduce operating support and suspend the Theatre Training Projects grant program earlier this year.”
The OAC’s reduced budget has already claimed other casualties, including the year-old Indigenous Culture Fund.
Toronto set and costume designer Sean Mulcahy said that the professional program offered both mentorship grants and networking opportunities for young artists. “The PTTP gave me my first professional design gig, as an associate with Canadian Stage,” Mr. Mulcahy said in an e-mail. “Without that paid mentorship, I don’t know if I would have been able to sustain my career in those early years and it was through the network Theatre Ontario created that so many opportunities came my way thereafter.”
In addition to losing its training programs, Theatre Ontario has had its operating budget cut by 8 per cent, or more than $5,000. The current budget is $59,524, down from $64,700 last year. The money supports a variety of initiatives, from workshops for emerging professional artists to an event that connects graduating post-secondary theatre students to agents and producers in the industry.
Theatre Ontario also receives revenue through its programming, donations, sponsorships and membership fees. It has close to 700 paid members, both individuals and organizations. Its programming includes the annual springtime Theatre Ontario Festival, in which outstanding productions from regional community-theatre festivals compete. The 2020 edition is scheduled to take place in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. The festival is produced in partnership with several volunteer-based organizations and Theatre Ontario said its future will be determined after the Oct. 26 vote.
The organization said it has been exploring other options to keep its doors open, including private funding, increased individual support from donors and programming changes to generate additional revenue or reduce expenses.