Thursday, November 20, 2008

The unofficial white paper: venue crunch

The next part of the SWOT analysis:

Lack of resources – especially venues. Condo development has made it almost impossible to run a small-size independent venue.


I see the venue problem as having two components and tying in to the PR problem. We need to get more voices out there, by giving our emerging artists more opportunities to develop and our homeless independent companies more stability. And we need to develop a wider audience, not just for ongoing financial stability but to more widely integrate theatre as an essential component of a thriving society.

Development of a multi-theatre venue that provide space for small independent companies and mid-size companies/transfers.


I personally would love to see the old Mono Lino Typesetting factory just south of Tarragon on Dupont be converted to that purpose.

I was asked what a transfer house is. It's a venue that doesn't have a resident company. It allows for a successful production to quickly move once its initial scheduled run is completed and it can no longer stay in its original venue. Off-Broadway has venues that do exactly this, allowing something that has developed in a small venue to reach out to a wider audience.

Now these types of venues have to be managed carefully. It was once hoped that the Elgin/Winter Garden would serve this function but it turned out to be too large and expensive for this purpose. Ideally, I see it as a two theatre venue: 300 - 500 seat house to move something that's a hit on the mainstages of the mid-size theatres, and a 150 seat black-box for the shows that have been in smaller spaces. (Diesel's larger space is 200, but it has a wide stage and a cabaret feel that wouldn't work for some shows.) The trick is to have great marketing (building up TO Tix's profile could assist this in a major way like TKTS does for Off-Broadway in NY), and venue management that can skillfully manage the times when there isn't a big hit.

Imagine if we had this venue last year when East of Berlin and Scorched took off. Instead of Tarragon trying to squeeze them in where it could this season, they could have moved right away when buzz was at its highest and ran for months. Tarragon would have to split money with the venue, but they wouldn't have had to go through a repeat rehearsal process and would have had more money coming to them in the long run by being in a larger venue, even if they only ran for as long as the remounts are now.

Now, I'm not sure if it could be a total transfer house but it could be set up for that kind of flexibility. Maybe the large house has that aspect while the smaller houses are rental spaces like the ones we currently have. At the very least, it would make more venues available to the independent companies.

As for who could build it and manage it, why not Luminato? Luminato has the business contacts who could raise the money to do the conversion, as well as the know-how to run the venue successfully. It could be designed with an art gallery attachment and with one of the spaces having a sprung floor for dance.The venue could serve as a home for the work it is currently incubating with local artists in all disciplines during the festival, and with the rest of the year it would be a way to stay in contact with the community and show its commitment to them. The Adelaide Festival Centre functions in a similar manner. The Young Centre demonstrates that a warehouse can be successfully converted to a multi-theatre function.

Now, I realize that this is a very ambitious project that may never get off the ground. But I believe it's worth exploring. However, the venue crunch is very real and needs to be addressed. We've had one theatre recently come online after years of losing spaces, the Lower Ossignton Theatre. And we have a new rehearsal space, Fraser Studios. But there are still very few spaces that are within the budget of independent companies - The Young Centre, despite its protestations to the contrary, is relatively expensive.

Philip over at Obsidian has been commenting here with a couple of different suggestions. First he posted this comment:
Why not make it a part of any condo development in certain sections of town to have a low cost space as a required part of getting developed. ie rehearsal spaces or 100 - 200 seat theatre etc. If that happened we would be creating our own new areas of theatre density, relieving the terrible shortage of space getting the indies out from under the thumb of the venued theatres.


He also provided a link to this Washington Post story about Big Box conversions.

Both of these are viable things to be looked at. The big box conversion is similar to what I propose above and I think would be a great opportunity to get theatre out to the farthest reaches of the city, where most of the big boxes reside. Imagine if you will an opportunity to do a Toronto touring circuit - playing downtown first where you'd get the reviews, then move around to Scarbourough, Rexdale, Etobicoke, East Toronto, then maybe expand out to Mississauga, Brampton, Richmond Hill, Markham, and Ajax. Again, the work gets a longer life and can grow, longer contracts for the people involved, and yet many of the costs of touring wouldn't happen because you'd still be able to go home every night.

Anyway, I'm throwing these ideas out there. It would require a large push from the community to make any of this happen so I'm really interested in what you, the readers, have to say about all this. Let's get the discussion started.

2 comments:

Michael Wheeler said...

Nice follow-up piece MK. It is possible in the future thatThe LOT will be able to facilitate transfers in the 100-150 seat range.

Tempting as it is, I am not going anywhere near your suggestion that Luminato should administrate such a venue. Certainly it would make a lot of sense to invest more of our public funding in infrastructure that made creating and producing theatre more economically viable for independent artists.

MK Piatkowski said...

And here I was waiting for you to jump all over my Luminato suggestion. :)

There would be zero political will right now to build a theatre venue. Luminato is the only organization I can see that could provide some degree of public commitment to a project like this because of the amount of private interest clout they have. And it would tie them closer to the community, although I could understand concerns about their administration.

If The LOT (thanks for letting me know their acronym) can handle transfers, that would be a great help.

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