Volume 93, Issue 4

Wednesday, May 28, 1999


Student council cuts upstage campus theatre

The show must still go on

The show must still go on

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
WE MAY BE DANCIN,' BUT WE AIN'T HAPPY. The cast of the Stratford Festival's West Side Story sings away their funding sorrows.

By Clare Elias and Brad Lister
Gazette Staff

The theatre community relies on support from private and corporate sectors and government funding to fuel its way through production costs and labour. However, over the past few years government cutbacks have left some theatrical playhouses rubbing stones together to find a spark.

Provincial government funding is provided through the Ontario arts council. Within the council there are many different branches which require financial aid and thus resources are spread thin. Kiersten Gunter, communications manager of the arts council said funding in the past five years has dropped dramatically.

"We are back to where we were 12 years ago," Gunter said. "There were a series of cuts in 1995-1997, but last year there were no cuts and we're now at a flat line and we don't expect any cuts for the next year."

The Shaw Festival, located at Niagara on the Lake, falls under the arts council's portfolio for financial support. "Last year we received a one time grant of $80,000 from the Ontario arts council. But $80,000 does not go very far when you have 500 people in the height of the season to pay," said Odette Rasdat, a senior communications director at the Shaw Festival.

Despite decreased government support, the Shaw Festival has become determined to survive. "The provincial government is not behind us and in all the election platforms not once has the arts been discussed. It's only been health and education, but the arts are an important fabric to society," Rasdat said. "We have to approach corporate and private sponsors. We have to restrategize."

Antoni Cimolino, general manager at the Stratford Festival, said they have seen a decrease in funding from the government of $1 million a year. However, he added this decrease has been compensated in other ways, such as through funding from Human Resources Development Canada and Foreign Affairs. He said while the art council's funding is being cut it means the government is keeping more of the money to do the funding itself.

"The funding now is coming from different government agencies [such as] tourism and industry," he said.

The communications branch of the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation expressed an optimistic feel for the upcoming year. Ellie Sadinsky, communications assistant to the Minister Isabel Bassett, said the provincial government is allotting $45 million in new initiatives.

"The government has expanded its mandate to arts culture and has raised $25 million in endowment funds to government cultural attractions, including cultural tourism." She added $400,000 will be given to the Commercial Theatre Alliance which covers small and mid-size theatres.

The Factory Theatre in Toronto is one theatre which would prosper from this grant. Two years ago the theatre almost closed as a result of the government's monetary tightening. "We survived because of determination to strengthen our self-revenue," said David Bail, general manager of the theatre.

Bail also stated the lack of financial support has changed the production capabilities for smaller theatres and thus larger shows are not sought after. "A lot of playwrights stop looking towards getting large scale plays done and are now doing three hand man productions because they know that has a better chance to get on stage."

A more diversified playbill is the most significant change to The Grand Theatre in London. Rob Wellan, artistic director at The Grand, said the theatre's survival depends more on audience support than the government. "The Grand Theatre gets the lowest grant from the federal and provincial government and the city in the country for a theatre of its size," Wellan said.

While attendance may decline depending on the nature of the show, Wellan said The Grand will continue to offer an alternative venue to movies and television. "The times have changed and people's attention span is limited. They're edgy and are saying 'thrill me, sensationalize me,' but there's something magical about the theatre that Hollywood will never demystify."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999