After almost four months of trying to find the reset button for three underperforming theatres owned by the City of Toronto, Clyde Wagner has implemented a plan designed to end their woes.
Wagner, who became president and CEO of Civic Theatres Toronto (CTT) in January, has merged the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and the Toronto Centre for the Arts into one big organization to manage and leverage all three buildings. The new structure took effect in April.
Wagner chose veteran executive Mark Hammond, CEO of the Sony Centre, to become vice-president of programming for the three merged theatres – making Hammond one of the most powerful figures in Toronto showbiz. He will be working with the help of a $5.3-million annual subsidy from the city, which will remain in effect until at least the end of 2018.
But two senior executives of Toronto's theatre world – Jim Roe, general manager of the St. Lawrence Centre, and Pim Schotanus, general manager at the Toronto Centre for the Arts – have lost their jobs as a result of Wagner's streamlining. (Roe announced his departure on Twitter on April 26.) There will likely be seven other job losses at lower levels, including some at each of the three venues.
The goal is to give the merged theatres more clout in booking live stage events, no matter what producers are looking for in terms of location and audience capacity for the shows they want to bring to Toronto.
"I'm excited about the organization we have set up to program and manage all three buildings," Wagner explained in a phone interview.
"If someone calls and says, 'I have a nugget of a show that needs only 180 seats,' we have that in our portfolio. And if AEG Live wants to bring k.d. lang to a large house, we've got that, too."
The process was set in motion in July, 2015, when Toronto City Council decided the three theatres should be merged. After a search by CTT, Wagner was offered the post of CEO. On Jan. 9, 2017, he left his previous job as executive producer at Luminato to take on this new challenge.
"We struggled long and hard to fit everyone in, and at some point we had to make hard decisions," Wagner said. According to an official statement from CTT, its board approved the new organization chart and structure on April 25, and it was implemented on April 26, completing what it called a "milestone in the amalgamation of the organization." The report promised: "The new company structure will enable CTT to become a dynamic and forward-thinking organization best suited to maximize the important cultural assets in its portfolio." It also said CTT is committed to building creative spaces for Toronto and Canada, inspirational homes for the artists of today and exciting places for aspiring artists of the future.
Each of these three theatres needed to be reinvented in order to help Toronto maintain its place as one of North America's top theatre destinations – based on the Mirvish organization with its four theatres, a lively fringe scene and two major summer festivals (Stratford and Shaw) within easy reach of the city.
Despite a major renovation, the 3,200-seat Sony Centre (formerly the O'Keefe Centre) was still in recovery from the departure a decade ago of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. Both moved to the new Four Seasons Centre.
Meanwhile, the St. Lawrence Centre, with 876 seats in its main venue, was being underused, with a diminishing number of weeks from its principal resident company.
Further north, the Toronto Centre for the Arts was damaged two decades ago by the crash of Livent amid charges of fraud – which eventually landed Garth Drabinsky and his Livent partner, Myron Gottlieb, in jail. And after the closing of Jersey Boys, produced by Dancap, the largest of TCA's spaces, once the home of Livent musicals, was reconfigured as two smaller spaces, entailing a loss of about 1,000 seats.
Roe and Schotanus could not be reached for comment.