It’s been a year since performance halls and music venues went dark across Canada. And for some stages, the lights won’t be turning back on. But for Saskatoon’s Broadway Theatre, they already have.
At the end of March, the Broadway hosted their “Winterruption at Home” showcase, where performers took the stage for two nights of music and spoken word acts—all performed to an audience of none. The 436 seats that would typically be filled on a night like this were empty, save a few taken up by camera equipment and a couple staff members.
In normal years, Winterruption is a near week-long festival of arts and culture, spanning multiple venues and even cities. In normal years, the Broadway has at least 80,000 patrons sift through their blue double doors for the more than 150 events they put on per year. But this wasn’t a normal year—and it’s a marvel that the Broadway was able to put a show at all.
This marvel was, in part, due to the theatre’s enormously successful “Broadway is Here to Stay Campaign.” In just two weeks in November, the public alone raised $87,000 for the venue. With support from local philanthropists and organizations that amount was raised to $167,000—more than doubling the amount required to keep the theatre’s lights on.
“I feel honored that the public went out of their way in a hard financial year to support us,” Kirby Wirchenko, the Broadway Theatre’s Executive & Artistic Director, said about the fundraiser. “It says that we mean something to them as well. It’s really edifying. And it’s really humbling.”
Though this impressive display of support means that the Broadway Theatre is indeed here to stay, this is somewhat of an exceptional case. The same can’t be said for many other small or medium sized venues (those with under 2000 capacity).
An October survey of 177 venues across Canada found that 96 per cent of these spaces were at the risk of closing.1 The Canadian Independent Venue Coalition estimates that more than 75 of these spaces across Canada have already turned off the lights — for good.
What’s more, one in four arts workers lost their job last year. Even the Broadway Theatre, which arguably had a better year than most, had to lay off all but five of their 22 staff members. If further venues turn off the lights, then that ratio of arts workers might soon become one in three.
Even if you’re not a regular show-goer, you can probably see the writing on the ‘stalls’—Canada’s arts and entertainment industry might survive without these smaller venues, but it certainly won’t thrive.
Because for every SaskTel Centre, there’s a Broadway Theatre, there’s a Capitol Music Club, there’s an Amigos Cantina, there’s an Underground Café. For every Conexus Arts Centre, there’s an Exchange, there’s an Artesian, there’s an O’Hanlons. Artists don’t start in rooms like the SaskTel Centre. They start at places like the Broadway Theatre. And if these stages go dark forever—well, you get the idea.
For shows to go on like they did in the “before times,” we’re going to support these smaller venues like we did before. This might look like buying a piece of merch. Or it might look like buying a ticket to a performance they’re hosting. Or it might look like supporting their fundraiser. It can look like a lot of things.
Because if we don’t, Wirchenko warns there’s not going to be much of a show at all when the lights come back on.
“People engage in art, culture, and entertainment almost constantly,” Wirchenko says. “And if you don’t support the ecosystem that raises artists up, then everything’s gonna be cut and dried. Formulaic. Justin Bieber-like. Raise in a test tube, spit them out on an arena stage. There won’t be anything else.”
1Survey: 96 per cent of Canadian music venues are at risk of failing, Now Toronto, https://nowtoronto.com/music/survey-96-per-cent-of-canadian-music-venues-are-at-risk-of-failing