The Royal and McPherson Theatres Society is throwing its support behind Victoria city council’s decision to ask other municipalities to fund the McPherson Playhouse.
During last week’s governance and priorities meeting, councillors Geoff Young and Ben Isitt brought forward a motion asking staff what would be required for the city to resume management of the playhouse.
According to the report, attendance has been declining and despite a $750,000 contribution by taxpayers, many local groups cannot afford to use the theatre and must find other space to perform.
“The thing that’s most worrisome to me about the Mac is the direction seems to be at best, stable and at worse, over long years, declining,” Young said. “The subsidy that we have now is vey high compared to the usage and the direction doesn’t seem one that is getting better.”
Council agreed to write to neighbouring municipalities of Saanich and Oak Bay asking if they’d be interested in funding the playhouse as well.
“I think it’s looking to align the use of the theatres per population with the funding of the theatre by population which is an appropriate thing to be asking,” said Byron Smith, board chair and president of the society.
He added they’ve also been looking into other funding models as part of their own strategic planning. “The motion that was passed was much more in line with the direction of our strategic plan in the long-run,” Smith said.
However, the society believes Young has drawn assumptions about how the theatre is run that are inaccurate. Currently, the playhouse (along with the Royal Theatre, which is owned by the CRD and funded by Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay) is owned by the city and managed by the CRD and the society.
It plays the role of civic auditorium and gets funding from general box office income, higher net revenues from the Royal Theatre and a 50/50 allocation of administration and overhead costs.
Unlike the Belfry Theatre that has a subscription audience, the McPherson has no subscriptions, with less than 15 per cent of audience members attending more than once a year.
Smith said it is difficult to pinpoint attendance numbers, since the last few years there have been renovations, that closed the facility for several months. Other groups also use the theatre in the summer.
“The Mac is really important in the arts community, I believe, because it plays this role of an incubator,” said Smith, adding for profit and not-for-profit groups, and organizations also put on performances at the playhouse.
“It’s this nice size theatre where it can allow arts groups to grow. Pacific Opera started in the Mac and it grew to a point where its audiences were large enough that it moved to the Royal.”
The playhouse serves roughly 25,000 people, employs 150 people on a full and part-time basis, and will host 50 productions from 50 different producers this year.