Make theatre a priority at the Vancouver Playhouse again!

The City of Vancouver Cultural Services and Vancouver Civic Theatres

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For consideration by the City of Vancouver Cultural Services and Vancouver Civic Theatres

Re: A Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Production Rental Grant program


IN SHORT FORM:


We wish to express support for the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Civic Theatres to make theatre a priority in the Vancouver Playhouse once again.


Goal:

For the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Civic Theatres to provide:
  • A minimum of one fully supported Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Production Rental Grant per year, for an extended residency of three weeks, specifically intended for new productions of Vancouver-based theatre companies in our city’s Playhouse.

  • Provide notification of grants in a more timely manner, to foster strategic development, growth and sustainability in that venue.


IN LONG FORM:


Preamble:


Following the bankruptcy of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Civic Theatres came together to offer the Theatre Rental Grant program to give access to Vancouver’s civic venues to local community groups and arts organizations. A key intention of this program was to ensure the Vancouver Playhouse did not go unused in the absence of a resident theatre organization producing a regular season of events*.


The Theatre Rental Grant (TRG), and the subsequent creation of the Under-utilized Spaces / VCT Grant program has seen dozens of arts and community groups benefit from free rent and minimum technical support in the city’s performance venues. It has fostered a significant increase in activities in many underutilized spaces, and enhanced the diversity of programming. The Theatre Rental Grant has been successful for many organizations and cultural groups.


However, our city’s signature venue for plays remained void of the practice of theatre creation for nearly a decade. We believe this is due to a practice of only partially supporting the base rental costs of longer residencies, which are required to build a new production in a venue like the Playhouse. While shorter residencies have added to the diversity of programming in civic spaces including the Playhouse, the partial support for rent during a longer residency is prohibitive for new theatre productions, compounding a challenging fiscal model that requires significant investment in crewing and technical support. The additional venue rental fees, that are often fully included in shorter residencies supported by the TRG, add to the fiscal challenges of large theatre productions.


A Strategic Action:


We wish to express support for the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Civic Theatres to make theatre a priority in the Vancouver Playhouse once again. We propose that, like the highly successful underutilized spaces grant (or VCT Grant), a specific and intentional stream to support new theatre production at the Playhouse be created. We believe this will encourage the development of Vancouver’s arts community at large, create jobs, support sectoral growth and stability, enhance the city’s reputation for world-class theatre, and provide needed opportunities for artists and audiences residing in our city.


Goal:

For the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Civic Theatres to provide:
  • A minimum of one fully supported Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Production Rental Grant per year, for an extended residencies of three weeks, specifically intended for new productions of Vancouver-based theatre companies in our city’s Playhouse.

  • Provide notification of grants in a more timely manner, to foster strategic development, growth and sustainability in that venue.


Rationale:

1. The Vancouver Playhouse was purpose built for theatre presentation, and should be used as a platform for theatre works created by Vancouver theatre companies. This practice should be specifically fostered in that venue, as it is part of the original intention of the building.

2. Theatre creation in a large venue is a unique practice, with different needs than other recipients of the Theatre Rental Grant (TRG) program. The install and technical process of a large new theatre production is considerably longer than for an existing or touring production, a music concert, a screening, or most community events, often requiring double or triple the amount of time in a venue, sometimes more. Most other recipients have a greater balance of technical days and performance days, putting theatre practice in the Playhouse inherently at a fiscal disadvantage in the current framework unless rent is fully funded.

3. Proactive access to the Playhouse to create more opportunities on large stages for all Vancouver-based Theatre artists and companies is needed. The City of Vancouver currently has only one large stage (500+) that regularly produces new theatre creation, which is owned and solely programmed by one organization. There are over 100*** theatre organizations in Vancouver, with no large stage within an independent grasp, except the Playhouse.

4. Overall support for Civic venue rental costs for theatre organizations has declined dramatically since 2012. In its last season at the Playhouse, the Vancouver Playhouse (VPH) Theatre Company received nearly 30 weeks of rental support at the Playhouse, valued at over $500,000. The level of funding for theatre from the TRG program across all civic venues is now less than $125,000, or 15%**** of the total program budget, and includes burlesque, circus, comedy shows, American musical theatre and presentations of work from out of town. The majority of “Theatre” TRG recipients are only partially funded. This does not support the needs of new local theatre production.

5. Theatre is a significant traditional form of multiple ethnicities and cultural communities in our city, like music and dance. As such, the practice of theatre should be proactively provided with greater and more equitable budget allocations for use of our city’s larger venues, to foster engagement in the practice, and ambition and artistic growth in the diverse practitioners.

6. A rental grant specifically for new theatre production in a large venue can remove a significant barrier and create fertile ground for the sector and the city. By removing this barrier, greater focus can be directed to artistic quality, technical skill and organizational capacity. This can enhance our city’s quality of life, the diversity of our cultural access and palate, and Vancouver’s cultural reputation, as the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company once did.

7. Vancouver audiences attend and support theatre in the Playhouse. The VPH Theatre Company once had more than 8,000 annual subscribers, and played to five to six times that many ticket-holders over their season. After a nearly 10-year absence of the form in that venue, in 2019 Electric Company Theatre welcomed back over 3500 people over just seven performances – a key indicator of strong demand for locally produced theatre. Audiences want to attend theatre by and for our city, in our downtown.

8. Three weeks is a necessary minimum for the model of creating sustainable new theatre production in a venue the scale of the Vancouver Playhouse. With extended technical processes of six to eight days, which incur significant technical staffing costs, a longer residency is required to foster sustainability, facilitate patron access, create ticket inventory and gain sales momentum to offset the high investment (beyond venue rental).

9. Investing intentionally in theatre production in the Playhouse extends the value to City of Vancouver funding and creates greater sectoral growth and stability. In both 2019 and 2020 Electric Company Theatre received support for the rental costs for only two of three weeks at the Playhouse. The unfunded rental portion due to the City is equivalent to more than half of funding the organization receives from its City of Vancouver operational grant, a burden that depletes resources for artistic creation, potentially limits audience access and creates organizational instability.

10. Support for a new theatre production needs to be confirmed earlier, as the process of building and financing a large theatre production can take a year or longer. For theatre organizations that do not program regularly in large civic venues, which is currently all theatre organizations, it is challenging to execute the necessary strategy to achieve success within the short notification period of the current TRG. In the summer of 2019, local theatre producer was awarded a TRG for a remounted production at the Playhouse in January. As of November 2019 they have yet to confirm they are proceeding with this activity.


We feel this proposal is in keeping with the City of Vancouver’s 2020-2029 “Culture|Shift” recommendations report early finding and key themes** including:


  • Equity and Access – by providing access to a large civic venue alongside other significant forms including Ballet, Opera and Music.
  • Visibility and Investment - The Vancouver Playhouse is one of the most visible venues in our downtown core, at the heart of the city’s Entertainment district. An investment in theatre at this location will increase visibility significantly.
  • Collaboration – by enabling theatre producers to collaborate with the city, the civic venues, and local audiences on a larger platform. It also creates the right conditions for larger, broader collaborations within the local, provincial and national sector, extending Vancouver’s cultural capital.
  • Capacity – enabling access to a large venue will increase the capacity of the artists and organizations to reach audiences, conduct work at this scale, and provides an opportunity for business development.

In closing:


Over the years countless productions at the Playhouse have elevated Vancouver artists and organizations to national and international acclaim, adding to the innovative cultural reputation of our city. Our community is a purveyor of high-quality, innovative original theatre. We hope you will consider making theatre a priority for support at the Playhouse again, to enhance and support the diversity of programming in one of our city’s largest civic venues.


Prior to 2012, the Vancouver Playhouse (VPH) Theatre Company was actively working with and commissioning a myriad of local theatre artists and organizations to bring large scale work to the Playhouse stage. When the VPH Theatre Company closed, countless opportunities for local artists and audiences evaporated – and all opportunities to produce large scale theatre in our city’s Playhouse were lost.


Vancouver needs opportunities on large stages to house the ambitious visions of our local theatre artists, a platform to launch large works from, and a place to share them with large audiences that is accessible to independent organizations. Affirmative action is needed.


On behalf of our cultural communities, thank you for your consideration of support for the prioritization of theatre at the Playhouse.


FOOTNOTES:

*Background on TRG and VCT post-VPH Theatre Company: https://www.vancourier.com/opinion/city-hall-spotlights-civic-theatres-after-vancouver-playhouse-collapse-1.379771

** Culture|Shift Key Themes: https://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/culture-shift.aspx

*** Incomplete Listing of Vancouver Theatre Companies: https://www.vancouveractorsguide.com/community/theatre-companies

****Vancouver Civic Theatres Rental Allocations 2018/19 : https://council.vancouver.ca/20180515/documents/a2.pdf  2019/20: https://council.vancouver.ca/20190529/documents/cfsc2.pdf

To: The City of Vancouver Cultural Services and Vancouver Civic Theatres
From: [Your Name]

Re: A Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Production Rental Grant program

Preamble:

Following the bankruptcy of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Civic Theatres came together to offer the Theatre Rental Grant program to give access to Vancouver’s civic venues to local community groups and arts organizations. A key intention of this program was to ensure the Vancouver Playhouse did not go unused in the absence of a resident theatre organization producing a regular season of events*.

The Theatre Rental Grant (TRG), and the subsequent creation of the Under-utilized Spaces / VCT Grant program has seen dozens of arts and community groups benefit from free rent and minimum technical support in the city’s performance venues. It has fostered a significant increase in activities in many underutilized spaces, and enhanced the diversity of programming. The Theatre Rental Grant has been successful for many organizations and cultural groups.

However, our city’s signature venue for plays remained void of the practice of theatre creation for nearly a decade. We believe this is due to a practice of only partially supporting the base rental costs of longer residencies, which are required to build a new production in a venue like the Playhouse. While shorter residencies have added to the diversity of programming in civic spaces including the Playhouse, the partial support for rent during a longer residency is prohibitive for new theatre productions, compounding a challenging fiscal model that requires significant investment in crewing and technical support. The additional venue rental fees, that are often fully included in shorter residencies supported by the TRG, add to the fiscal challenges of large theatre productions.

A Strategic Action:

We wish to express support for the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Civic Theatres to make theatre a priority in the Vancouver Playhouse once again. We propose that, like the highly successful underutilized spaces grant (or VCT Grant), a specific and intentional stream to support new theatre production at the Playhouse be created. We believe this will encourage the development of Vancouver’s arts community at large, create jobs, support sectoral growth and stability, enhance the city’s reputation for world-class theatre, and provide needed opportunities for artists and audiences residing in our city.

Goal:
For the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Civic Theatres to provide:

A minimum of one fully supported Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Production Rental Grant per year, for an extended residencies of three weeks, specifically intended for new productions of Vancouver-based theatre companies in our city’s Playhouse.

Provide notification of grants in a more timely manner, to foster strategic development, growth and sustainability in that venue.

Rationale:

1. The Vancouver Playhouse was purpose built for theatre presentation, and should be used as a platform for theatre works created by Vancouver theatre companies. This practice should be specifically fostered in that venue, as it is part of the original intention of the building.

2. Theatre creation in a large venue is a unique practice, with different needs than other recipients of the Theatre Rental Grant (TRG) program. The install and technical process of a large new theatre production is considerably longer than for an existing or touring production, a music concert, a screening, or most community events, often requiring double or triple the amount of time in a venue, sometimes more. Most other recipients have a greater balance of technical days and performance days, putting theatre practice in the Playhouse inherently at a fiscal disadvantage in the current framework unless rent is fully funded.

3. Proactive access to the Playhouse to create more opportunities on large stages for all Vancouver-based Theatre artists and companies is needed. The City of Vancouver currently has only one large stage (500+) that regularly produces new theatre creation, which is owned and solely programmed by one organization. There are over 100*** theatre organizations in Vancouver, with no large stage within an independent grasp, except the Playhouse.

4. Overall support for Civic venue rental costs for theatre organizations has declined dramatically since 2012. In its last season at the Playhouse, the Vancouver Playhouse (VPH) Theatre Company received nearly 30 weeks of rental support at the Playhouse, valued at over $500,000. The level of funding for theatre from the TRG program across all civic venues is now less than $125,000, or 15%**** of the total program budget, and includes burlesque, circus, comedy shows, American musical theatre and presentations of work from out of town. The majority of “Theatre” TRG recipients are only partially funded. This does not support the needs of new local theatre production.

5. Theatre is a significant traditional form of multiple ethnicities and cultural communities in our city, like music and dance. As such, the practice of theatre should be proactively provided with greater and more equitable budget allocations for use of our city’s larger venues, to foster engagement in the practice, and ambition and artistic growth in the diverse practitioners.

6. A rental grant specifically for new theatre production in a large venue can remove a significant barrier and create fertile ground for the sector and the city. By removing this barrier, greater focus can be directed to artistic quality, technical skill and organizational capacity. This can enhance our city’s quality of life, the diversity of our cultural access and palate, and Vancouver’s cultural reputation, as the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company once did.

7. Vancouver audiences attend and support theatre in the Playhouse. The VPH Theatre Company once had more than 8,000 annual subscribers, and played to five to six times that many ticket-holders over their season. After a nearly 10-year absence of the form in that venue, in 2019 Electric Company Theatre welcomed back over 3500 people over just seven performances – a key indicator of strong demand for locally produced theatre. Audiences want to attend theatre by and for our city, in our downtown.

8. Three weeks is a necessary minimum for the model of creating sustainable new theatre production in a venue the scale of the Vancouver Playhouse. With extended technical processes of six to eight days, which incur significant technical staffing costs, a longer residency is required to foster sustainability, facilitate patron access, create ticket inventory and gain sales momentum to offset the high investment (beyond venue rental).

9. Investing intentionally in theatre production in the Playhouse extends the value to City of Vancouver funding and creates greater sectoral growth and stability. In both 2019 and 2020 Electric Company Theatre received support for the rental costs for only two of three weeks at the Playhouse. The unfunded rental portion due to the City is equivalent to more than half of funding the organization receives from its City of Vancouver operational grant, a burden that depletes resources for artistic creation, potentially limits audience access and creates organizational instability.

​10. Support for a new theatre production needs to be confirmed earlier, as the process of building and financing a large theatre production can take a year or longer. For theatre organizations that do not program regularly in large civic venues, which is currently all theatre organizations, it is challenging to execute the necessary strategy to achieve success within the short notification period of the current TRG. In the summer of 2019, local theatre producer was awarded a TRG for a remounted production at the Playhouse in January. As of November 2019 they have yet to confirm they are proceeding with this activity.

We feel this proposal is in keeping with the City of Vancouver’s 2020-2029 “Culture|Shift” recommendations report early finding and key themes** including:

Equity and Access – by providing access to a large civic venue alongside other significant forms including Ballet, Opera and Music.
Visibility and Investment - The Vancouver Playhouse is one of the most visible venues in our downtown core, at the heart of the city’s Entertainment district. An investment in theatre at this location will increase visibility significantly.
Collaboration – by enabling theatre producers to collaborate with the city, the civic venues, and local audiences on a larger platform. It also creates the right conditions for larger, broader collaborations within the local, provincial and national sector, extending Vancouver’s cultural capital.
Capacity – enabling access to a large venue will increase the capacity of the artists and organizations to reach audiences, conduct work at this scale, and provides an opportunity for business development.

In closing:

Over the years countless productions at the Playhouse have elevated Vancouver artists and organizations to national and international acclaim, adding to the innovative cultural reputation of our city. Our community is a purveyor of high-quality, innovative original theatre. We hope you will consider making theatre a priority for support at the Playhouse again, to enhance and support the diversity of programming in one of our city’s largest civic venues.

Prior to 2012, the Vancouver Playhouse (VPH) Theatre Company was actively working with and commissioning a myriad of local theatre artists and organizations to bring large scale work to the Playhouse stage. When the VPH Theatre Company closed, countless opportunities for local artists and audiences evaporated – and all opportunities to produce large scale theatre in our city’s Playhouse were lost.

Vancouver needs opportunities on large stages to house the ambitious visions of our local theatre artists, a platform to launch large works from, and a place to share them with large audiences that is accessible to independent organizations. Affirmative action is needed.

On behalf of our cultural communities, thank you for your consideration of support for the prioritization of theatre at the Playhouse.

FOOTNOTES:

*Background on TRG and VCT post-VPH Theatre Company: https://www.vancourier.com/opinion/city-hall-spotlights-civic-theatres-after-vancouver-playhouse-collapse-1.379771

** Culture|Shift Key Themes: https://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/culture-shift.aspx

*** Incomplete Listing of Vancouver Theatre Companies: https://www.vancouveractorsguide.com/community/theatre-companies
****Vancouver Civic Theatres Rental Allocations 2018/19 : https://council.vancouver.ca/20180515/documents/a2.pdf 2019/20: https://council.vancouver.ca/20190529/documents/cfsc2.pdf