A (possibly) unpopular opinion… the State of the Arts

Last night, my husband and I attended the opening of the ArtsClub theatre’s latest offering, “Intimate Apparel“.  Completely excusing first-night jitters, we left a little miffed, slightly discouraged, and ultimately less than enthusiastic about the future of the arts in this city.

My challenge was that-  while this was admittedly a comped evening at the theatre for us – any other night, it would have demanded about $100 for tickets alone.  And I can’t help but wonder, “is it worth it?

Let me fully state my bias: I have been involved in various areas of theatre for almost fifteen years (yikes); first in a backstage role as a make up artist with various community theatre groups and eventually with Opera Ontario, then as a student, performer and enthusiastic supporter of improvisational comedy with The Staircase Theatre and The Second City, bringing me to a criticism role as a student at Brock University and UBC.  Unfortunately, the passion that I knew and loved within this community seems to have waned throughout the years of my involvement, leaving an insular, self-congratulatory circle of insiders lamenting the lack of support (financial and otherwise) from Everyone Else.

So I sit in the audience at the beautifully-set Granville Island stage and wonder how on earth this model of community existence will ever be sustainable.  If theatre is considered a luxury, yes, we know from recent and continued success of stocks from Tiffany’s and lululemon that the luxury market continues to thrive in a troubled economy; the “haves” will continue to spend, and the “have nots” will continue to save up and spoil themselves as a reward for our hard work.  So perhaps a night at the theatre will continue to have its place- the distinction in this market is that the consistency and reliability of product from a lululemon or a Tiffany’s remains.  The value and craftsmanship is virtually undeniable.  But that reliability and value scale seems to be becoming more and more skewed in the world of The Arts.

Here, I call out the white elephant of Vancouver’s theatre community:  too many people here have spent time in Toronto and as a result, the standard of value for my theatre dollar is set.  I know, walking into the ArtsClub theatre, that the price per ticket is on par – if not higher than – what I have paid in the past for Mirvish productions, Stratford, Shaw, etc.  Being a nomadic city, we are well-heeled.

But what do we do? We pay $50 for our tickets and sit down for 3 hours of inferior performance, retreating to the lobby post-2nd standing ovation to congratulate each other on a triumph.   When deep down inside, we all know that it just wasn’t.

Why aren’t we demanding more?  As an eternal optimist, it seems too simple to say “well just don’t go then”.  But I don’t know what the answer is.  In the Arts community, an honest opinion that isn’t flattering can often lead to ostricization, or an assumption that you Just Don’t Get It.  That is unfortunate, because in every other circle, honest feedback is accepted and sought after as necessary in order to improve and remain relevant.

Theatre: I criticize you because I love you and want you to be here.  I want people to leave you, confident that their money has been well spent.  I want people to rave about you to their friends with an authentic passion.  I want people to be excited about you.  I want you to reach your fullest potential and feel alive as actors, directors, costume designers, make up artists…  I want you to inspire.


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