Is there ever a time when it's ok for a theatre company to close?This is the question I keep asking myself these days. I'd like to separate it a bit from the closing of the Vancouver Playhouse, though obviously that is what has it on my mind. I don't know enough about the situation or the scene to comment about the specifics, but there is something general that I think needs to be talked about.
The "ecology" metaphor gets a fair amount of play in the arts. The idea being that a scene is a complex, interdependent network of big and small, a diverse community that relies on each other in potentially unexpected ways in order to thrive. It's a metaphor I've used and
genuinely generally am ok with. I do believe in the value of healthy bigs and successful commercial theatre along with the nimble, emergent and experimental and most of everything in between (it is a bloated middle that I worry most about.)
So, if we take, for the moment at least, the ecology metaphor a step further, the problem is that we, as an arts community, seem to want endless growth. Current structures to be maintained while new ones are continually born and grow. Which isn't how I understand ecologies to work. To be blunt, things have to die in order for other, new, things to grow.
So, is there ever a time when it's ok for a theatre company to close? Is it that it should only be by clear choice, rather then to avoid the creditors? This seems historically unlikely. For economic reasons, companies refuse to die. The need to maintain the operating support from government alone means that there is a rotation of Artistic Directors, a turning of larger and larger ships, with more and more influence from the Boards and mandates, structures and models developed in the 70's and 80's.
(Da Da Kamera is the only company I can remember closing shop. [Read Daniel McIvor's remarkable account here] It's rare and full of potential and hope along with sadness.)
With "austerity" and a growing radical conservatism meaning arts funding or private support isn't going to keep pace with the ever growing number of applications and companies, the ecology is going to fail if there isn't significant change.
I will admit that an early thought in hearing about the Playhouse closing was "Oh, at least there will be new money at the councils next year." It feels horrible to think these things, like a philistine betrayal of my peers.
But, We rail against greedy investors and CEO's who keep the lid on the 99% for endless growth, but we replicate it. We rail against politicians who want to hold up the status quo of economic relations, but we fight to maintain our own.
I sincerely hope the best parts of the Playhouse can live on. I hope that there are plans for the costumes and props and physical resources to be distributed into the community of companies, that the patrons and audience and supporters will continue to go to the theatre in a city that is doing amazing things. That the staff take their expertise and commitment and help others to grow to fill the gaps, and to create new, unexpected solutions.
The social and political world we live in is different from a metaphoric or even real ecology. There are ideologies and choices being made: agendas and missed chances. I recognize that.
But I also want to ask, is it ok for a theatre company to close?
**** Another possibility worth discussing: mergers
**** Updates: A good post by Ian Leung challenging the use of the ecology metaphor.
In thinking about the Polar Bear extinction issue (if we ruin the planet, that's not part of the ecology) is important. Though any one theatre is not a species.