Thursday, November 6, 2008

The unofficial white paper: national companies

I have to say I'm rather disappointed that my article at Theatre is Territory hasn't resulted in any major discussion of the issues. Is it just that everyone is too busy, or are they too burned out by the election/funding cuts? I'd hate to think it's because people don't care.

More support to bring national and international companies to the city - and to support it when it’s here.


I'm going to start on this topic by quoting Mary Vingoe, former Artistic Director of Magnetic North, in the current edition of CanPlay (this issue is fantastic and well worth acquiring):
Toronto is not presenting some of the hottest companies in Canada*, companies who have travelled around the country and increasingly around the world...This 'silo' mentality is having a negative effect not only on Toronto theatre audiences but also on all of us as theatre artists in this country. A Canadian tour, which has to make its way around Canada's largest city, is ridiculous and makes it more difficult for everyone to build a strong national touring network...

Toronto has not welcomed the rest of the country for a long time and it/we are missing out.


A large part of this problem is that Toronto has a higher concentration of theatre artists than any other city in Canada. I'm pretty sure that can be back up with two numbers: the amount of local entries for the Toronto fringe verses other Canadian fringes; and the amount of independent productions per year. And we're all fighting for venues and the opportunity to have our work performed on a main stage. Which doesn't leave much room for other companies that don't live here.

Some work does come here. Factory has made it a policy the last few years to have one of its mainstage shows be a touring production. Summerworks now has its national component, as does the Fringe. And in the article I neglected to mention the Theatre Centre and its FreeFall festival.

But here's a question for you. How many of you Toronto-based artists make a point of seeing the touring stuff when it's here? How many of you went and saw out-of-towners at the Fringe and Summerworks instead of your friends' shows? How many of you go to FreeFall and/or World Stage? Who saw The Old Trout Puppet Workshop (I'm guilty of missing that one) or are planning to see One Yellow Rabbit at the Young Centre? Based on what I've seen, not many.

I'll talk more about the international element in part three and about new venues in part four. For now, I'm limiting myself to talking about how to open ourselves up to the rest of the country.

CanStage needs to figure out who they are and what they are bringing to the table for this community.


So we have a problem with not having Canadian companies play Toronto. And here we have what is, for all intents and purposes, our regional theatre. A theatre that no longer has a distinct identity. A company that has Canadian in the title. Who have a strong subscriber base that wants quality theatre at a decent price. So I'm suggesting that they take this mantle and run with it. Since there is a perception that they have separated themselves from this community for a long time, it wouldn't be a great loss if they aligned themselves more as national presenters. Or they could reserve the Bluma for the touring companies and keep the Berkeley Street Project as well.

Ah, but who would do productions of Frost/Nixon and Doubt? After all, these are seminal plays that, while take longer to get here than any other city in Canada thanks to boneheaded New York producers, are still major works that deserve local productions. Well, Studio 180 has been doing a pretty good job with these kind of shows and is already partnering with CanStage. Tarragon also has a good track record and an artistic director who I suspect would love to get his hands into this more if he didn't have to worry about CanStage outbidding him. And Company Theatre is doing a great job of getting Irish work here. If CanStage wanted to keep their hand in, they could partner with these companies, alleviating their current financial crunch while still satisfying their subscribers.

But if CanStage can step up to the plate for Canadian touring companies, they'd finally be worthy of their name.

* Mary lists Theatre Newfoundland Labrador, Eastern Front, The Electric Company, Boca del Lupo, Ghost River, and Catalyst Theatre as examples. I actually have seen a Catalyst show, but it was while I was in Adelaide for the 2004 performing arts market.

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