Saturday, November 19, 2005

Toronto's Small Theatre Companies in Peril

I'm not a big fan of the word gentrification, because I think the good usually outweighs the bad when a neighbourhood gets an influx of people and capital. But in any change there are victims -- and when you leave the arts community totally at the mercy of market forces, market forces will almost always win out.

As property values in Toronto (and across Canada) continue to rise, small arts institutions are at the mercy of their landlords, who often have to to raise the rent as taxes go up or who are tempted to sell for a nice profit. In today's Post (subscribers, sorry), I take a look at the situation affecting Toronto's small theatre community.

Over the past year, the community has been hit again and again. Last Spring, the 105-seat Tim Sims Playhouse closed. (Taxes became too high to cover in a post-SARS market.) Then, during the summer, the 140-seat Poor Alex shut down. (It will reopen as a jazz and blues club.) Then, in October, Artword -- home to a 150-seat theatre and a 60-seat theatre -- was given notice to vacate of 75 Portland St. by March. (Property sold to condo developers.)

Next on the chopping block: The Theatre Centre at Dovercourt and Queen. The building it is in is up for sale. They have a lease until July 31, but what happens after is up in the air.

Already show have been cancelled, postponed, or are scrambling for space. The Fringe Festival has to find replacements for two of its best venues -- the Poor Alex and Artword. This facility crisis is only going to get worse.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but you can't blame landlords for wanting to make money (or not to lose money in some cases). There's little incentive for them not to sell and that's the City's fault. More on this later... I just wanted to put something up before I went off to cover the Geminis.

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