"It breaks my heart," said White Rock Players' Gordon Mantle in regard to the closure of Vancouver Playhouse. The curtain came down for the final time last weekend, and the actors on stage gave a final bow to the theatre itself. "It brought tears to my eyes," commented actor Gordon Roberts, on the board of directors of Royal City Musical Theatre and West Coast Tap Dance Collective. He was one of many of the theatre fans who attended the company's final performance Saturday.
After 49 years of presenting live theatre, the Vancouver Playhouse is shutting down. Not just to reorganize like Ballet BC, but close-the-door-weare-gone gone, thanks to a drop in ticket sales and nearly a million-dollar debt. No bailouts, no bond transfers, no help. It's tragic, and a real black eye for Vancouver. We can host the Olympics, but can't keep one of our main professional theatre companies operating. And don't even begin to tell me people would rather go to a hockey game than a musical. I get it. The arts need funding from outside sources - corporate or government - to keep operating. The bottom line is the dollar.
Mantle blames himself and others like him. "We stopped buying season tickets. Without government funding, the ticket prices got too high and we couldn't afford it any longer." Mantle first became a "theatre junkie" at the age of 15 when he saw his first play at Vancouver Playhouse. Many years ago. He also believes that while a sports event is "exciting," it doesn't actually help to enrich your life. "I can remember plays from long ago that changed my life," he confides. I totally agree. Now, isn't that a surprise? Not! I have worked background in movies, done just about every job available in community theatre, run a business that caters to the performing arts, and I constantly audition for plays, make costumes and tap dance. So instead of staying in the teaching profession, I followed the call of the arts. No regular pay cheque, no fame, no fortune. No holidays, either. Just sayin'.
Geoff Griffin, of the newish Peninsula Productions, has more thoughts on the demise of the Playhouse: "I think it is really sad, and a cautionary tale for anybody trying to make it in the arts. While not in any way comparing Peninsula Productions to the Vancouver Playhouse, the difficulty in finding funding and affording to do what we do is one of the main reasons that Wendy (Bollard) and I are proceeding with "baby steps" and trying very hard not to get out on any financial limbs."
The ripple effect from the closure of the Playhouse will be felt for years to come. What happens to the employees, the costumes, the props, the library of experience? Oh no, don't get me started. I could get angry. I won't even say that if we had diverted some of the money spent on recent ads by both government and unions on trying to sway public opinion on potential walkouts/strike action, the Playhouse could have been saved.
These shoulda-woulda-coulda arguments run a continuous circle. Corporate and government funding must return to the arts. I'll leave it to you to sort out all the arguments. Oh yes, and Mantle needs to borrow some wooden barrels for an upcoming production. If you can help, call him at 604-374-1507. Aiding in the survival of live theatre can be just that simple.
Surrey Christmas Bureau is another in-need-of-funds organization. Sure, they aren't involved in making plays, they just try to bring some joy and toys to needy Surrey families at Christmas time. "We have so many needy families in Surrey, we have to fundraise all year now," says Christmas Bureau co-ordinator K.C. Gilroy. So why not have a wee leprechaun with his pot of gold help out Santa? Cute. Extend your St. Pat's celebration at the "Shamrocks and Holly" pub adventure on Sunday, March 18 from 11: 30 a.m. to 3: 30 p.m. at Kennedy's Pub, North Delta. For only $15, you get a pub lunch, contribute to the Christmas bureau funding, and wallow in non-stop Irish entertainment for four hours. Wear green, and bring some green. The entertainers include dancers from the Steel School of Irish Dance, Michelle Carlisle, piper Garth Newlands and Irish band Copper Sky. Reserve tickets by calling 604-581-9623.