Vancouver Playhouse Closes

Clement isn’t dismissing a resurrection, but enthusiasm for the idea has waned since theatre artists rallied outside the Playhouse Theatre on a rainy Saturday night, declaring they would fight to save the company. Now there is some acknowledgment that the Playhouse may have been beyond saving. Some say the 1950s-era model for the large regional theatre is outdated (although it thrives in cities such as Calgary), and the Playhouse rented its theatre from the city, and therefore didn’t always have access to the space. globe and mail

I’ve spent many an entertaining evening at the Playhouse. Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tom Stoppard – usually played well and staged intelligently. But it has been decades since I went to live theatre – children and having served for half a year on the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards Jury pretty much did me in. (Being on the Jessies Committee meant, at the time, seeing three or four plays a week of radically varied quality.)

Live theatre and the arts in general have been fighting for attention for years. It is not that the performances have declined in quality, if anything standards have risen. Instead, I suspect, a combination of demographics, cultural shifts and more diverse options have changed the audience beyond recognition.

Demographics and culture make a huge difference. Vancouver is now 50% Asian. (Some people argue the number but close enough for the argument.) An Asian community does not have much of a link to Shakespeare, still less to Chekhov and likely none at all to Tom Stoppard. And, yes, I am speaking generally – no doubt there are legions of Chinese Chekhov fans but only relative to a more general cultural indifference to Russian playwrights in translation.

At the same time, the overall population of Vancouver is aging. And, as we age we (or rather they as I live in Victoria) tend not to spend as many nights out. A subscription to the Playhouse, once a fixture of my dating life, would be a bit of a burden at this point.

Perhaps most of all, the attention deficit is built upon the fact that people have many, many more alternatives. When I grew up in Vancouver (about a million years ago but actually in the late 60’s and 1970’s) there were five TV channels and no internet. An evening at the theatre was a break from the monotony of  “a night at home”. That has hugely shifted.

I’m sorry to see the Playhouse close but, sad to say, I will barely notice it’s gone.

8 thoughts on “Vancouver Playhouse Closes

  1. Earlier Eastern European immigrants had no ties to Shakespeare and they were mostly uneducated. But their kids were educated in Canada. That’s what made the difference. Why wd it not be the same for immigrants from any part of the world?

    • jaycurrie says:

      It is a good point RA. And, if you take a look at the Chinese near obsession with classical music with Western repertoire it is pretty clear that the Vancouver Symphony benefits from this particular wave of immigration. But that does not make it any easier for the Playhouse. One obvious difference is that theatre is, among other things, about language and language play.

      Another piece of the puzzle may be that for the East European immigrants “fitting in” to the new country was very, very important. Partially because of their culture, possibly because that – rather than multi culti cultural retention – was the norm and partially because immigration to a 50% level in a major Canadian city would have been entirely unacceptable to our grandparents. So the earlier waves of immigrants rarely achieved numbers large enough where they could retain the old country culture.

      • Jay, in Toronto, 1st generation Polish Jews and Italian immigrants were able to live their lives within their ethnic communities – but their kids and grandchildren did go to school and learn English culture.

        Also, although Vancouver is Asian there a few different Asian cultures represented there. So to say that the population is 50% Asian does not mean that half the population is Sikh or Chinese.

        Third point, most of these Asians like their kids to be educated.

        Fourth, I don’t know how much multiculturalism extends beyond the meaning of having respect for everyone no matter where he or she comes from. It isn’t like the situation in Holland where a minority from a primitive country has remains foreign.

  2. Hagbard Celine says:

    I think the real point is, most of us don’t care. I have not been to live theatre since high school, and I am 48,. Why? I honestly see no value in it. I can watch any number of Shakespeare plays as film, and if I look hard enough Chekov too. Stoppard? never heard of him and could not care less,

    Most of us lead busy lives, and what little leisure time we have we would rather spend at home with loved ones, or doing something more active rather than trekking off to a theatre, wait in line, and sit with teams of people we find are smelly, boorish and rude.

    I don’t care one bit that the Playhouse has closed.

  3. Exurban says:

    I go to a couple of Bard on the Beach Shakespeare plays every summer, and have done so for the past 15 years. (That’s a Shakespeare festival in Vancouver, in case you’re reading this from some exotic clime.) The audience is never less than 97 or 98 percent white. Sometimes there are actors who are Asian or black; a couple of times when I have seen plays with such actors the audience has appeared to be 100% white.

    • jaycurrie says:

      Exurban, I have noticed the same thing and there is nothing wrong with that. But the poor old Playhouse can’t fill the seats if 50% of its potential audience is unaware of the pleasures of Shakespeare.

      And so it dies.

      The good news here is that Shakespeare and Chekov and Stoppard live because of the little companies which live hand to mouth and keep the spirit of the Bard alive.

      The world changes. Perfect words do not.

      We trek up the hill to the local college to see Shakespeare under the Garry Oaks a couple of times a summer. The boys love it funny language and all. They usually see each of the plays twice – kids get in for free or a toonie or some such. The vast structure of the Playhouse was all about a certain sort of model in which big grant money financed small productions. Now no grant money (or very little) keeps a wonderful experience alive.

  4. […] I’m less polite than Jay Currie. […]

  5. […] that level of immigration changes Canada quite radically. Various bits of culture fall away when your city is 50% Chinese. Which is not the end of the world and, for the same reason, the […]

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