Vancouver playhouse restruct ­uring raises questions

Vancouver Playhouse restructuring raises questions
The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company has denied that financial issues are behind its decision to combine the positions of general manager and artistic manager.

In an August 23 announcement, the theatre company revealed that its general manager, Jon Stettner, had resigned, effective immediately; that its artistic director, Glynis Leyshon, will depart at the end of the 2007/08 season, after 10 years with the company; and that their roles will be combined into the single position of artistic managing director.

"It [financial management] was part of the consideration, but it wasn't the major part of the consideration," Jeff Schulz, a member of the company's board of governors, told the Straight . "It's like any arts organization: you need to be managing your costs of administration, so it has some financial impact, but that wasn't the main reason. It was really just the leadership."

Schulz said the fact that Stettner's departure was immediate was due to personal and health matters, and was not related to the administrative restructuring. According to public-relations manager Mairi Welman, the company's most recent season resulted in an overall increase of $400,000 in box-office sales over the previous year, as well as a 50-percent increase in sales of season "flex passes".

Though no other major theatre company in the city shares the Playhouse's new model of a single, combined leadership position, Schulz maintained that it is not unusual.

"There are a number of organizations around the country and the world that do have a very strong person in the lead who's also responsible for the finances," he said.

Leyshon told the Straight that the restructuring was a logical step. "For the Playhouse, focusing so strongly on our commitment to the capital campaign and our commitment of growth in terms of marketing strategies and so on, it made sense that we look to a single head for the organization," she said. She added that she is not interested in taking on the new position, saying: "I love to direct, and I feel that that's what I want to focus on.”¦I think it needs someone more interested in the arts-administration or producing areas of the company."

Wasserman, acting head of the UBC department of film, theatre, and creative writing,  noted that whatever happens at the Playhouse will inevitably affect the broader theatre community. "It's going to be very interesting, now that Roy Surette has left the Belfry [in Victoria] and Glynis has left the Playhouse, to see what kind of reshuffling goes on, and whether any of the current artistic directors of other companies in Vancouver move into those two slots. Because then that will mean a reshuffling at the lower end of the spectrum as well," he speculated.

Old Theatre at risk
A number of high-profile Vancouver entertainers and arts administrators have formed a task force to ensure the survival of one of the city's oldest neighbourhood theatres.

Located at 639 Commercial Drive, and run as the Raja Cinema from 1996 to 2006, the 500-seat theatre has been on the market since last fall. Known for most of its history as the York Theatre, it was purpose-built in 1913 as a live-entertainment venue by architect John Y. McCarter, who later designed the Marine Building.

"It [the York Theatre] was always known for having excellent acoustics," Tom Durrie, who steps down this week as general manager of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra to pursue studies in opera production, told the Straight . "I'm very concerned that its use as a theatre may be terminated for some other commercial purpose."

The task force Durrie has assembled includes Bard on the Beach artistic director Christopher Gaze and Early Music Vancouver executive director Jose Verstappen. The group is putting together a business plan for the theatre's restoration in hopes of attracting investment to bring the theatre back to life.

Back in Vogue
The general manager of the newly reopened Vogue Theatre is hoping to convince the venue's owners that the space can be profitable in its current form.

Gwyn Roberts told the Straight he has won the agreement of the theatre's current owner, the Whistler-based Gibbons Hospitality Group, to run it as a live-theatre venue while plans continue for the conversion of the space into what some have dubbed a supper club, where food and drinks would be served alongside live entertainment. The proposed renovations, which have raised concerns at Heritage Vancouver, have been held up while the city reviews GHG's application for a liquor licence.

"I'm not going to go in and spend a few million dollars renovating the place if we can't serve drinks, because we just can't otherwise pay the bills," Joey Gibbons, president of GHG, told the Straight . "I'm just trying to make sure that all of the licensing and that kind of stuff can be put in place first, and then we'll spend the money to clean it up. It drives me crazy that I can't start spending the money in there and making the place look good."

The theatre came back to life on August 27 with an open house featuring blues-pop singer Jessica Beach and singer-songwriter Ben Sigston.