by Michael Wheeler
One of the great laments of the Toronto indie theatre artist involves our chronic lack of performance space. For a city of 2.48 milion people, there are just six or seven rentable theatre spaces, many of which must be reserved more than a year in advance – and only after you have secured a considerable amount of funding. New condo developments have replaced the Artword Theatre and they’re moving in fast on The Diesel Playhouse and The Theatre Centre.
This lack of space does not make for a spontaneous, intense or particularly hardcore artistic process. 100-seat black box theatres – the bedrock of any theatre community that is creating and experimenting with its own work – are suddenly on the endangered species list.
I have a new job I believe presents an opportunity to change this dynamic. (Oh god, I sound like Roma – just pretend we’re in a Chinese restaurant). Before I get to the idea, let me tell you a little bit about the Queen West Arts Centre.
After rehearsing, teaching, and then directing a play at the Queen West Arts Centre – the powers that be have finally just put me in charge of developing, administrating and promoting the space.
There are a couple of rehearsal spaces, which are fairly nice (actually one of them is gorgeous). There’s also a 2,000 sq.-ft. room with 20-foot ceilings that really should be an awesome theatre, but isn’t yet. It has a massive double-lobby that should be the jewel of the building, but feels more like the entrance to a poorly funded community centre. Instead of a costume shop, it has a room with a large pile of costumes.
It is my job to fix these and other problems. Of course, this being theatre, funds are scarce. And since the Queen & Ossington neighbourhood is going from shabby to chic quicker than you can say “unemployed actor”, this theatre’s 10,000 sq.-ft. of prime real estate does not come cheap.
Change is needed to get this theatre up and running, yes. But, the trick is in making that change happen without incurring additional expenses to the overhead. All I have to work with as capital is the one resource the Queen West Arts Centre provides in abundance: space. Well kept, very well located space.
With these parameters in mind I have begun:
Build Your Own Theatre (BYOT)
Throughout this summer and fall there will be a series of weekend projects around the Queen West Arts Centre. Lots of painting, maybe some drywalling, some building of things . . .
And, here’s the proposal: Artists, theatre companies, and community members who contribute to these projects will be compensated in kind.
By this I mean:
1) Free rehearsal space; and/orWho’s in?
2) A box office-sharing arrangement, where we waive the theatre’s rental fee during your production’s run in exchange for a percentage of ticket sales.
If this project appeals to you, check out the Queen West Arts Centre website and send me an email to the contact info provided. Let us know:
1) Who you are and your organizational affliations, if any (individual artists and lovers of theatre, generally or more than welcome, too); andThere are only a couple of “performance” spots left. Of course, people who want to come help out – meet some people, contribute to your artistic community – are also welcome. It could be for a single afternoon, or for a longer, more involved commitment. We’re open to any and all proposals.
2) Your initial reaction as to whether you would like your labour to be compensated by way of rehearsal time or performance space.
And for those of you playing along at home, I will be writing about our progress here on the Praxis Theatre blog. Comments and suggestions are appreciated almost as much as sweat and a good idea.