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

The actors from Come From Away are shown in an undated handout photo. The production is closed permanently at the Royal Alexandra Theater in Toronto.Matthew Murphy / The Canadian Press

On December 27, Mirvish Productions announced that their production of Get away from had closed permanently at the Royal Alexandra Theater in Toronto. Production was only recently reopened on December 15 to enthusiastic applause after a 21-month hiatus due to COVID. Since then, COVID-19 cases broke out backstage and four performances had to be canceled. It would be financially unaffordable to close production, even for a short period of time, while still retaining the cast and crew, so David Mirvish made the difficult decision to close production permanently.

This news is devastating to art in Canada’s largest city and the country as a whole.

In a statement, Mirvish criticized the lack of financial support from the government. “In other parts of the world, the government has stepped up to support the commercial theater sector by offering an economic safety net so that the sector can reopen and play during the pandemic, thus protecting the tens of thousands of good jobs that the sector creates. That is the case in the United States, Great Britain and Australia – where productions of Get away from keep playing. “

Opinion: To avoid further closures such as Toronto’s Come From Away, governments must support Canada’s performing arts sector

He added: “Without such a safety net, it is impossible for production to take an even longer break. The cost of reopening a second time is prohibitively high and risky.”

Get away from, with book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, tells the story of how 38 planes on their way to the United States were diverted to Gander, Nfld., after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and how the local population took care of, fed, housed and provided emotional support to 7,000 passengers over five days. It is a musical that shows the best of humanity in a dark time and how this generosity of spirit was carried forward. If there was ever a show needed during this pandemic, Get away from is it. The show has been championed, celebrated and embraced because of its message of kindness and respect for others, no matter where it has played.

The cancellation raises many questions, most importantly: What does it mean for the theater in this country? If Mirvish can not even set up a production in Toronto of a successful musical such as Get away from, should other companies just give up?

As the late Stephen Sondheim wrote: “Art is not easy.” It takes courage and heart to create theater, and this country is filled with creators who have done just that. Theater is too important to express who we are as human beings and as a society to hold up. Statistics clearly show how important theater is to the economy as millions of dollars flow in to create jobs, maintain restaurants and hotels and support small businesses and more.

Theater has been an economic savior in tough economic times. Look no further than Stratford, Ont. In the early 1950s, the city struggled financially when it lost the railroad. Tom Patterson, a leading citizen, believed that the establishment of a summer festival dedicated to Shakespeare would be the solution. It seems to have worked. Stratford Festival celebrates its 70th season in 2022.

Gil Garratt, the artistic director of the Blyth Festival in Blyth, Ont., Faced having to cancel his indoor season last summer due to COVID-19. What did he do? He built an outdoor theater on a deserted football field and made a shorter season. People flocked to.

In 2011, Michael Rubenfeld, then the artistic director of the SummerWorks Theater Festival in Toronto, was informed that 20 percent of the funding was withdrawn because the Harper government did not like the topic of one of the plays (about a terrorist group in Toronto). Rubenfeld gathered his supporters and raised funds for coverage they lost money. He also organized a protest that saw various art and theater groups across the country express outrage at the interference of this government. Next year, funding was reintroduced.

In the end, it is the pandemic that is wreaking havoc on how and when to go to the theater. What will help? Money. Financial support from all levels of government can help theater-producing companies by ensuring that there is a cushion when canceling performances. This is crucial. How can it be obtained? We need to galvanize.

There is power in numbers and in making noise. Any citizen who believes that theater is important for their lives should write to their city councilor, MP, prime minister and prime minister and ask for – no, demand – the financial support that Mirvish says is lacking and explain why theater is worth the effort.

Every artistic director of all theaters, large and small, in Canada should unite to do the same, including numbers for participation, income, and jobs to prove the point.

Likewise, each individual board.

It does not help to regret this terrible situation. Association is. There is power in numbers and noise. Supporting the theater is crucial.

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