The squeaky wheel gets the grease. This adage is even more true when the resounding squeak is emitted by a three-storey high wheel constructed from painstakingly carved ebony and lush velvet. Such is the situation amongst many theatres in the western world- most needing financial support, and all, both grand institutions and smaller independent locations, competing for the same pot. For newer theatres, especially those not touting the rich architectural beauty or seating capacity of large-scale regional theatres, it can feel like swimming upstream to try and get the attention of juries and investors that could make the difference of sink or swim.
Globe Theatre (no, not The Globe Theatre) in Regina, Saskatchewan, is currently looking at a cost of $29 million for renovations to the historic property that houses the company’s physical theatre. The theatre company faces what many realize when moving into centuries old spaces- they were not built with today’s knowledge. While the physical building is a cultural mainstay of the city after having spent decades as Regina’s city hall, the fact remains that crumbling infrastructure and lack of modern conveniences for modern work are inevitable hurdles when maintaining these locations. Petitioning for a contribution of $6.6 million from the city to begin this work, those at the Globe do not seem to have entered into a state of panic at their current prospects. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Bus Stop Theatre’s financial crisis could spell its end.
Having seen its neighbouring independent performance spaces go down in the past several years, The Bus Stop Theatre remains the last of its kind in Halifax. Accessible in both scheduling and cost, as well as a strong partner to the artistic voices less likely to be heard on larger commercial theatres, the space has served as the home for Halifax’s indie theatre community. Now the theatre co-op of The Bus Stop finds itself with the building it calls home going up for sale this year in the increasingly gentrified area of North End Halifax. And despite all attempts to run a full program of artistic events within its walls, the theatre co-op is struggling to attain the support for its goal of $6.5 million.
Beyond the purchasing and renovation of the current theatre space, The Bus Stop would intend to build a secondary rehearsal and performance space in the currently empty lot behind the theatre, addressing an ever growing hunt for space among those in the performing arts. With the decreasing number of financially accessible and dedicated performing spaces, artists have been chasing after any room that will take them. The Brown Box Theatre Project in Boston spent recent rehearsal periods in a middle school auditorium; Little Lifeboats, a company in Minneapolis, began themselves producing works in bars and factories, less of a creative choice than it was simply more economic than conventional theatre rental. Necessity can breed creativity, but it’s still indicative of the dwindling options for performing artists.
The Globe Theatre (yes, that one), the incubator for the works of Shakespeare, was brought back from the ashes twice: once in 1614 after it went up in flames, and then in the form of a modern reconstruction (“Shakespeare’s Globe) in 1997 after the original was closed by Puritans in 1642. While the devotion to maintaining any and all historically significant structures is inspiring, one must wonder how many small community theatres could grow, flourish, and take on their own mantle as cultural institutions if given a portion of that financial opportunity. And despite moderate sized theatres at times receiving the necessary funds to keep their walls up, such as Hull Truck Theatre in England receiving its £2 million emergency funding request in 2015, the reality of theatre doors slamming shut in the desperate struggle to stay afloat is the rule, not the exception. All physical theatres need to ask themselves many questions when it comes to dire straits (“Is this space worth the cost?” “Why aren’t we selling tickets like we used to?” “Are we the problem?”), but when the potential solutions to these only answer the call of the grandest of squeaking wheels, the questions can do little but hang in the air.