The text messages, emails, phone calls, tweets, and Facebook messages started shortly after 2pm. The Vancouver Playhouse had announced that after 49 seasons instead of launching the celebratory 50th anniversary season, they were closing down due to overwhelming debt. Closing night of the current show – tomorrow – will be the final performance. As the day has gone on and I have continued to speak with friends and colleagues the responses are the same: shock, anger, and grief. For many the Playhouse was a first exposure to professional theatre. For others it was the stage they dreamed of one day gracing or celebrated achieving that goal. For others still it has been a place of employment. For all of us it has been a touchstone of our cultural community.
I first attended the Playhouse in fall of 2001. October 25th to be exact. I have the ticket stub to prove it. I was in grade 10 and my high school in Vernon, BC had a program in the drama department where twice a year they would load a greyhound bus with 50 students and 5 chaperones and drive to Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton or Calgary for four or five days of seeing theatre, touring schools, and getting experiences we wouldn’t get in Vernon. That trip was my first experience of professional theatre other than TYA. I don’t know how many of you saw The Edible Woman, but the lights came up and there was a man, naked, in a bathtub, thrusting against the air and then Jillian Fargey slid herself in under him while narrating. So there’s one first the Playhouse afforded me: my first time seeing a man’s bare behind. I remember not loving the show, but I also know that I’ve previously blogged about how the bed that flung out on to stage in that show felt like magic to my young self. We saw many other shows on that trip (Flying Blind at the Arts Club’s Granville Island stage, Elizabeth Rex at the Stanley, All Grown Up at the Gateway to name a few) and I look back on that trip as being one of the places that my love of theatre began to flourish.
Most recently, I was at the Playhouse last night. It was my fourth (and final) time to see Catalyst Theatre‘s Hunchback. I’d been going as a volunteer for The Cultch which meant that in exchange for sitting at a table and telling people about the upcoming shows at The Cultch I got to go see Hunchback for free. I knew it was my last time going to see Hunchback, but I had no idea it would be my last time attending a show by the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.
Members of the Vancouver theatre community are planning a memorial for tomorrow night before the final performance. They are planning to gather at the Playhouse at 7pm. There is more information available via the facebook event page. I can’t go as I will be backstage elsewhere, but I will certainly be thinking of them.
There is a large part of me that is not ready to give up hope. During the press event they repeatedly said that with the help of sponsors and/or donors it would be possible to salvage the company. While I pray that they will find the support they need, I recognize that it is unlikely.
A couple of times already today I’ve found myself overwhelmed by waves of grief as I try to imagine Vancouver without the Playhouse. Their impact has stretched far beyond their performances. I can’t think of a single company in Vancouver that hasn’t rented their rehearsal room or rented or borrowed props or costumes. And I’m sure their are implications that I have not yet begun to consider and that we won’t begin to see until it is too late.
Allowing the Playhouse to cease to exist is a huge mistake for Vancouver and for the province of British Columbia. It is one of Canada’s oldest theatres and has been the cultural heart for this city. Someone on facebook (I can’t remember who at the moment) referred to today as a Cultural Black Friday. And I agree.
Please use the comments to share your memories of the Playhouse – shows you loved (or hated), firsts, and other stories.