To avoid further closures like Toronto’s Come From Away, governments must support Canada’s performing arts sector

Eliza-Jane Scott and cast in Come From Away in 2018. The Toronto production of the hit show has closed permanently less than two weeks after it reopened.Matthew Murphy / Mirvish

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been it in many ways Get away from Prime minister.

The “Sunny Ways” philosophy of the drama teacher who became the politician’s early reign was in line with the gospel of kindness that this Canadian musical preached about the Newfoundlanders who helped stranded air passengers from all over the world after 9/11.

In March 2017, Trudeau even borrowed the Broadway production for an evening to practice a kind of musical theater diplomacy, visit the show in New York, and preach about the special friendship between the United States and Canada from his stage in front of an audience. which included the then president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.

Opinion: Come From Aways’ premature end in Toronto should stimulate calls to save live theater

Earlier that year, in the wake of Donald Trump’s travel ban on certain countries, Trudeau had tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.”

This is one of the messages that Get away from has also taken to the world stage and associated with Canada; and Trudeau has not missed opportunities to be associated with it – for example, by writing the preface to a book of texts and manuscripts by its creators, Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

Five years after its Broadway premiere, Get away from‘s brand remains strong, with productions of the feel-good musical in the US, UK and Australia currently struggling bravely to stay open despite the pandemic.

However, Trudeau’s brand has diminished over time – and it risks getting another big hit this week with the news that Toronto production of Get away from is closed forever.

This is because the reasons why the most successful Canadian production of a Canadian show in Canadian history is permanently closed less than two weeks after it reopens are as much to do with sluggish politics and passivity from the federal and provincial governments as The Omicron variant.

Producer David Mirvish, who usually does not go into politics, said so much heralding Get away from‘s closure on Monday: “In other parts of the world, the government has stepped up to support the commercial theater sector by offering a financial safety net for the sector to reopen and play during the pandemic, thus protecting tens of thousands of good jobs the sector is creating,” he said. he in a press release.

“But in Canada there is no such state aid. And without such a safety net, it is impossible for production to take an even longer break.”

To take the United States as an example, the federal government there – with bipartisan support – made more than $ 16 billion available to performing arts venues and producers of all sizes through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.

Broadway production of Get away from alone received about $ 10 million of this funding to get up and running again this fall.

In contrast, Mirvish and the other manufacturers of Get away from in Toronto bet their own millions on getting the musical back on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theater in Toronto in early December. They were simply unlucky enough to run into Omicron’s unique challenges and related sudden new capacity constraints imposed by the Ontario government.

This government, led by Doug Ford’s progressive conservatives, has not been very generous with the performing arts during the pandemic – and has in fact prevented their cure on several occasions by imposing arbitrary and unfair restrictions on livestreaming and practicing or not giving sufficient advance warning. for theater companies and other art organizations to plan as the restrictions were lifted over the summer and into the fall.

When the Ontario government finally allowed the audience at full capacity indoors in October, it gave a full day’s notice. In contrast, last spring, New York State signaled that Broadway would be able to open full-capacity stores again this fall – giving producers several months to plan how they can safely reopen shows.

If Mirvish had received that kind of heads-up, maybe Get away from would have reopened in October, not December – and may have had some time to recoup its reopening costs.

But those decisions will not hurt the Ford government as much, as their brand has never included art.

However, the Trudeau government has wooed voters who care about art and culture. And especially in the early years, it could rightly claim to be the most art-positive federal governments for decades – for example, doubling the budget of the Canada Council for the Arts.

During the pandemic, the federal government has supported industries far and wide through the emergency wage subsidy and helped independent workers with CERB and its successors – with these measures recently extended to the arts and culture sector for a further period through Bill C-2.

It is fantastic. But in a way, these measures have provided an incentive for theater companies to remain dormant, with administrative salaries – but not production activities – being dampened by the government. The independent contractors and artisans employed by the theaters on stage and behind the scenes have meanwhile been left to collect declining relief aid.

How does it make sense from a public-political standpoint to help keep Mirvish Productions afloat but not help keep its actual productions of plays and musicals employing Canadian artists on stages?

During the last federal election, the Liberals seemed to understand that the relaunch of the performing arts sector would require more specialized programs, promising a “new Arts and Culture Recovery Program that will match ticket sales to performing arts, live theaters and other cultural venues to compensate for reduced capacity. “

Where’s the money now that theaters have been cut back to 50 percent capacity in Ontario and elsewhere? Could Toronto production of Get away from have kept open if that program was in place now?

Get away from is just the first major victim of what could be a complete bloodbath in the performing arts in January if the Trudeau government and other policy makers do not act with the urgency needed to ensure the sector’s survival.

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