Mounting debt sinks Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company
Faced with a mounting debt approaching $1 million, the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company will cease operations after 49 years.
The news was delivered today by Jeff Schulz, chair of the Playhouse’s board of governors, and Max Reimer, the company’s artistic managing director, at a news conference held in the Playhouse.
Vancouver Playhouse board chair Jeff Schulz announces the theatre company will shut down operations.
“Last night we called an emergency board meeting, and I outlined the situation to everyone–basically, we can’t continue operations with the amount of debt that we have, and no realistic ability to pay it back,” said an emotional Shulz, choking back tears. “And when that situation occurs, our responsibility as a board is to take care of our employees, to take care of our creditors, and do the responsible thing. So last night, at four o’clock, we put forward a motion to begin to wind down operations effective tomorrow, at the end of Hunchback. So tomorrow will be officially our last performance as the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.”
A sombre Reimer told the assembled crowd that he was “overwhelmed with a sense of loss.” He also urged people to avoid pointing fingers. “I think what is not useful would be identifying individual blame, point to specific mistakes and missteps, try to find someone to lynch,” he said. “That would be unhealthy, because a theatre company this size and of this longevity requires many, many building blocks. The building blocks are across all levels of government, across private sector contributions that come in various ways.”
Vancouver Playhouse artistic managing director Max Reimer on the theatre company’s legacy.
Schulz said the company’s outstanding balance was $900,000 to $1 million, and that rather than enter bankruptcy protection, it would be easier and less costly to cease operations.
Reimer said the closure of the company would mean the loss of 15 staff positions, as well as approximately 200 contractors each year. He estimated the total loss to the arts community in contracts to be $2.9 million a year.
There have been signs that the Playhouse was struggling financially for some time. In September, 2011, it was revealed that the City of Vancouver had bailed out the company to the tune of $1 million. The financial assistance had been approved by council during in-camera meetings in March and June of 2011.
The financial leg-up came in the form of a one-time emergency grant of $100,000 to the company, sourced from the city’s contingency reserve; up to $400,000 in funding from the Cultural Precinct reserve; and the $426,000 in outstanding debt forgiven.
At the time, councillor Heather Deal told the Straight the company was too important not to help: "All arts organizations are important, but when one this large, that has production space that many other people use—it has young actor programs, it has young theatregoer programs—it was just too important to let go,” she said.
While acknowledging the Playhouse's demise was not all in the hands of the provincial government, NDP arts critic Spencer Chandra Herbert had strong words for arts minister Ida Chong.
"This hopefully says to the minister, 'Wake up and do your job.'" Referring to recent revelations that the Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development has not yet dispersed $3 million in arts funds, he added: "Sitting on $3 million, laughing about how you don’t know how you’re going to spend it when you have a few days left before the end of the month clearly shows how out of touch this government is in terms of the creative sector and what’s needed here.”
Chandra Herbert noted that the loss to the broader local economy of the Playhouse's closing could amount in the millions of dollars. "We’ll see that in places we can’t even imagine," he said. "Whether it’s corner grocery stores, carpentry lots, costume shops, advertising firms, newspapers, media, et cetera. It’s going to have a huge impact. It’s hundred, if not thousands, of indirect jobs."