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The Globe and Mail

No federal bailout for Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company

Supporters, actors and theatre students gather during a vigil outside the Vancouver Playhouse on the closing night in Vancouver on Saturday, March 10, 2012. The federal government says it won't bail out the landmark theatre.

Rafal Gerszak/rafal gerszak The Globe and Mail

The Minister of Canadian Heritage will be in Vancouver Tuesday morning to announce funding for a long list of cultural institutions – but the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company won't be one of them.

"They've been bailed out already, the City of Vancouver gave them $1-million. It didn't work," James Moore told The Globe and Mail on Monday. "They tried fundraising. They didn't get the kind of financial support that they were hoping for. It's just really disappointing and sad."

The Playhouse (the company, not the city-owned venue) announced earlier this month it was closing because of overwhelming financial problems, including a debt of up to $1-million. The company's struggles were well known, but the announcement that the 49-year-old regional theatre company would be shutting down after the following night's performance was a shock.

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"I think it's tragic for Vancouver," Mr. Moore said. "It's bad for Canadian culture. It's bad for theatre actors."

Mr. Moore will announce funding for more than 100 organizations Tuesday morning at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music, but the Playhouse will not be on the list.

"We do have funds available within the Department of Canadian Heritage … to help them take another run at it. Those funds are available. They haven't taken up the offer."

Mr. Moore was referring to the Canada Cultural Investment Fund, which has a component offering limited support to endangered arts organizations of up to $250,000. The funding is available in "rare instances where a professional arts organization faces the prospect of closure but there is a high degree of support for its continuation and a viable business/restructuring plan," according to Canadian Heritage.

The Playhouse chose to shut down operations rather than file for bankruptcy protection and restructure.

Last year, the City of Vancouver forgave a Playhouse debt to the city of $426,000, and voted – in-camera – to provide two emergency grants: one of up to $400,000; the other $100,000. City staff also undertook an "urgent review" of the situation at the Playhouse.

Less than a year later, on March 9, the Playhouse announced the closure.

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"[It's]really sad obviously. British Columbia's culture scene is something that's been struggling for new energy for a long time," said Mr. Moore, who grew up in Coquitlam. He recalls seeing theatre in Vancouver as a high-school student, but said "it's been a while" since he attended an event at the Playhouse.

"But I have no doubt that the cultural scene in Vancouver, the desire for theatre, is something that isn't going to go away, it's only going to grow," he said. "And if the Playhouse isn't able to resuscitate itself and move forward from this unfortunate news, I have no doubt that the theatre scene in Vancouver will continue to grow and there'll be a new beginning somewhere else."

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