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A Canadian recalls the recession and an Irish pony

June 11, 2010

Irish Pony c michaelfaas

Catching up with Camilla Holland before she departs Toronto to come and participate in the session on creating a sustainable theatre economy:

You recently chaired the Commercial Theatre Development Fund of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, while your day job is running Tarragon, a small new writing theatre which supports playwrights.  Have any playwrights got wealthy through commercial theatre?
It’s hard to think of a wealthy Canadian playwright. The most-produced playwright in Canada is Norm Foster, who has astonishing success almost entirely outside of the Toronto market. If you scroll through the Theatre Communication Group top ten lists ( you’ll notice over the past ten years that Michael Healey’s show “The Drawer Boy” has had 36 productions across the US, but not at strictly commercial venues. John Krizanc’s “Tamara” ran for ten years in LA and three years in NY in a commercial production. The all-Canuck book/lyrics/composition team behind “The Drowsy Chaperone” must also have paid off a mortgage or two from that show’s international commercial success.
Canada went through its own recession 20 years ago and is now heralded in some quarters in Ireland the UK as being the model recession buster. Was it good for the arts?
I can’t imagine anyone who was working through the recessions in the last two decades felt it was good for the arts. There were really two distinct “economic downturns”, and I have to confess I had to call colleagues for details as I wasn’t working in the arts through the first one. The first recession in the 80s had a “shrink-wrap” effect, by which I mean that everything got a bit leaner and meaner. Interest rates were so ridiculously high that companies with any reserves actually had decent interest income. The arts bounced back from the 80s; the tougher one one was the 90s when in Ontario our provincial funder was cut by 40% as an extremely conservative government slashed most of the “soft services”. This is where we as a sector felt large cuts, companies responded by reducing their programming severely, and some organizations closed.
Having survived the two recessions made the arts more focused on diversifying our revenue, with a renewed push for private sector revenues and building endowments. There was a lot more collaboration and joint advocacy that followed in the early part of this decade, and through to today. We’re always looking for new models of production, new ways to build our audiences, new relevancies to the community. But isn’t that the case with any arts organization in the world?
The tangible and intangible effects of the economic downturns are still seen today. Ontario now has students graduating from high school who have never been exposed to the arts within the school system. As a sector, the not for profit companies are still being pushed to increase our private/public partnerships, and grants haven’t really rebounded. And yet we persevere …

This is your first trip to Ireland (I think).  Do you get Guinness in Toronto?
I was in Ireland once before, when I was four; I remember there was a pony. I expect I’ll make some more excellent memories on this trip!
Over 4 million Canadians claim Irish heritage (and that stat grows exponentially on St. Patrick’s Day) so it’s safe to say there is Guinness in Toronto. Heck, in the past year alone Toronto has hosted “The Walworth Farce” (Druid Theatre) and “Giselle” (Fabulous Beast), both to great acclaim.

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