Downfall - Death of the Vancouver Playhouse

For those outside the Canadian theatre bubble, this might require some explanation. March 9th, the Vancouver Playhouse, a regional Canadian theatre established in 1962, announced it would be closing. Plagued with debt, the company felt they were unable to overcome this and the board voted to shut things down. As one might imagine, this has caused outcry from the theatre community across Canada; anger at arts cuts from the current Conservative government that span back years, mountains of hypotheses on the cause of this downfall , and petitions circulating to try to save the company, soliciting donations. I do not disagree with a single one of these.

That said, I feel that the thing that is going unsaid (or at least not loudly enough) is that many professional regional companies in Canada are not creating work that gives people a reason to go. In an age where Hollywood and Television do what they do so well, and suck people in to paying upwards of $13 for a movie theatre ticket to see the latest blockbuster, theatre interest has waned, particularly among the aging middle-class bourgeois Canadian public. Now what has the Canadian Mainstream's response to this been, in the face of large commercial successes like those seen by DanCap and Mirvish in Toronto (the Canuck equivalent of the West End or Broadway)? It has been to try continually to produce the mega-budget, big-star blockbuster, but on the stage. This has meant season after season full of adaptations from films, or staging of plays that have been made to films, for maximum opportunity for success. Rather than engaging with what makes theatre essential, as well as what makes it fundamentally different from a moviegoing experience, theatre in Canada has attempted to be "just like the big kids".

I would like this to be a call to arms for my fellow young theatremakers in Canada; With our generation, lets fix things, not by going with formulae and safe but mediocre successes, but by really challenging why on earth we make this stuff in the first place. Lets make interesting and new work that challenges the audience and makes them want more. What stories must be told in the theatre? What makes our medium, one that has existed for 2000 years different and necessary? And why should people come see our work?

When we can begin to attempt to answer these questions in our work, we'll have begun to do something truly worthwhile. I know it is in there.