I live in a beautiful city. That much is undeniable. Vancouver thrives on creativity. We have starving artists, veteran performers and recent theatre school graduates who would die for their creative ambitions. There is starving talent everywhere. But we do have a lack of creative hunger in the city?
Over the summer I spent a couple weeks working as a telemarketer for the Arts Club Theatre Company. I have no future in sales though I adore conversing with people, hearing anecdotes about theatre from New York and interior BC, hearing about experimental theatre, theatre for rambunctious children and plays for people who hate theatre. But I was shocked by how many patrons were apathetic to our friendly though admittedly annoying phone calls.
“We have no time for theatre. We saw a play last year and we both fell asleep. We prefer something more exciting. We prefer football games.”
Do people hate theatre in my city? What an existential question for a theatre school graduate. Especially considering I was born and raised in Vancouver. All of a sudden I found myself on a trip down memory lane where I found the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.
The Canadian Encyclopaedia places the Vancouver Playhouse in a beautiful though depressing light. Malcolm Page describes a “theatrical, slightly decadent style” under the artistic direction of Christopher Newton in the late seventies. But “despite a bail out from the city in 2011, the Playhouse debt was $1 million and annual losses of $500,000 were predicted.”
I remember my inner child feeling slightly responsible for this. The Playhouse Theatre had recently given me a generous $500 scholarship to pursue my artistic interests. Could they even afford to share that money? Was if my fault they went bankrupt? In theatre school we explored our inner playfulness and childhood humour in theatre so… I gave myself permission to be eleven years old. Then I felt the weight of my childhood home crumbling down.
The Vancouver Playhouse was the first company to ever empower and education me as a young playwright. They generously provided me with mentorship from Amiel Gladstone, a beautiful workshop space, endless complimentary tickets to the theatre and priceless inspiration. Talk about a theatre that gave back to the people.
“The Vancouver Playhouse lacked support from its host city.”
That seems pretty harsh. But you are the Canadian Encyclopaedia and you probably no more than me. Just… We live in a beautiful city, right? And theatre is a beautiful art form and creative expression is inherent to lasting beauty and people need beauty to cultivate happiness right? Someone please comfort my eleven year old self.
I LOVE THIS CITY.
I love our ocean and our mountains and our artists. Some people consider this city a lost cause. In theatre school we often joked that as soon as you become successful in Vancouver, you move to Los Angeles. It breaks my heart although I understand the sentiment. How can we succeed in the arts when there are no jobs here? Of course the decision to live and work somewhere is a deeply personal one. I would never cast judgement on a performer for making that decision based on their own needs and values.
But where do I stand? I want to fight for this city. I want to become a working artist and I do not want to starve. I want this decision to be effortless for the next generation of theatre school graduates. I care about those eleven year olds. I care about them in the same way the Vancouver Playhouse cared about me. They knew theatre school would be expensive and they wanted me to have a fighting chance.
– CJ McGillivray