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The venue for the Victoria Symphony, Pacific Opera Victoria and Dance Victoria has doubled the rent for these three clients and restricted the dates the companies can use the theatre.

Three Victoria arts organizations face the performance of their lives Tuesday night as they appeal to the operators of the city’s Royal Theatre to reconsider what the Victoria Symphony calls “exorbitant” rent hikes and new booking policies that will greatly curtail access to the venue.

Victoria Symphony, Pacific Opera Victoria and Dance Victoria will address the board of the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society, hoping for a reprieve on the moves they say will have a significant impact on their organizations – and on the cultural life of Victoria.

The changes came into effect on Jan. 1, but the Royal Theatre has agreed to hold off implementing them until the end of the current season.

The theatre says it is imposing rent increases ranging from 30 to 100 per cent, depending on the date. But the arts organizations say in some cases the rent hikes are far more than double. For instance, Dance Victoria CEO Stephen White says a Thursday night rental has gone to $3,500 from $850 per night.

Pacific Opera Victoria says the rent increase alone will cost the company $120,000 a year.

“There’s not a landlord or a tenant I feel that would find that a reasonable request,” POV CEO Ian Rye says.

The changes to booking policies are equally, if not more, troubling for these non-profit organizations – limiting the number of dark days (non-performance days) in between shows, for instance, and putting restrictions on performing during peak periods.

“It’s really about efficiency and trying to balance the use of the theatre,” says Randy Joynt, Manager of External Affairs for the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society (RMTS), the non-profit organization that runs the theatre (as well as the smaller McPherson Playhouse).

Mr. Joynt points out that with the population of Victoria exploding, there is increased demand for other types of entertainment – including touring Broadway-style musicals, comedy shows and popular music. “We certainly are not intending to push anybody out,” he says.

Already, the Victoria Symphony has announced it will move nearly half of its concerts next season out of the Royal and to the University of Victoria. The UVic venue has 200 fewer seats, which means a diminished ability for the Victoria Symphony to generate revenue, as well as the risk that comes with moving performances out of downtown. “You hope and pray that your patrons will follow you,” Victoria Symphony CEO Kathryn Laurin says.

But for most opera and dance, there is no alternative venue in Victoria, so POV and Dance Victoria will “have to do the stay-and-pay option,” Ms. Laurin says.

Together, the three organizations mounted 68 performances at the centrally located Royal Theatre last season, attracting more than 68,000 people – 55 per cent of the Royal Theatre’s overall audience. The organizations say the combined annual economic impact for the Capital Region District is $16.4-million.

The 1,416-seat theatre was purchased by the municipalities of Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay in 1972 and subsequently gifted to the CRD in trust for the municipalities. The theatre receives $100,000 in annual funding from the three municipalities. But that amount hasn’t changed in 20 years, RMTS says, and now accounts for only 5 per cent of its annual operating budget. “We’re feeling the financial pressure of this static funding,” Mr. Joynt says.

The RMTS has posted budget surpluses of more than $180,000 in each of the past two years, following two years in the red.

The arts user groups have met with the mayors of Saanich and Oak Bay and say they will meet with Victoria’s mayor this week. They have been making the case that the historic purpose of the theatre has been as a place to present locally created works.

“[We] are key stakeholders in the cultural life of the city,” Mr. Rye says. “The operators of the Royal Theatre are really trying to change the purpose of that facility, this public facility … and they’re trying to make that change unilaterally without engaging … the arts organizations who serve these communities.”

But Mr. Joynt says the RMTS is charged with managing the theatre for the benefit of the citizens of the region. “It doesn’t specify the not-for-profit arts,” he says.

As for the process, Mr. Joynt says there have been “many, many meetings and discussions” going back years.

Ms. Laurin says there were “some very circular conversations” about rents and access, but at the beginning of November they were notified of the rent increases and new access policies, which she calls a complete surprise.

She is hoping the RMTS board will agree to a reprieve.

“There needs to be a more reasonable approach, a more incremental approach. [If] you need to make some increases, well why don’t you phase that in over a three-year period, for example … rather than simply bring down the hammer and say ‘well now at the stroke of midnight we’re going up 100 per cent.’”

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