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Buddies’ friends pitch in to save theatre

Gay4Pay cancelled, replaced with fundraisers

CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? Buddies artistic director David Oiye says he's the support of Toronto's top queer theatre artists will help the theatre make ends meet this year. Credit: Rob Salerno

Citing financial difficulties brought on by diminished ticket sales and the economic downturn, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is cancelling its March show, Gay4Pay by Ed Roy, and replacing it with a series of major fundraising events to keep the theatre from shutting its doors. Also postponed is a May show, You Are Here by Vancouver-based storyteller and Xtra West columnist Ivan Coyote.

“The choice to cancel Gay4Pay was a response to possibly closing our doors before the season ended,” says Buddies’ artistic director David Oiye.

Gay4Pay was one of the current season’s most expensive shows and would have opened shortly after the close of the Rhubarb Festival, which Oiye says is a very expensive show for Buddies to produce.

“Part of the dilemma was that we needed the space in the Chamber [Buddies’ main theatre space] for fundraisers,” Oiye says.

Recognizing the severity of Buddies’ need, artists who have histories with the theatre have stepped in to help raise money to fill the funding gap. Oiye says Buddies needs to raise $25,000 through the various fundraising events.

Among those lending their talents is Canadian actor and director Daniel MacIvor, who staged many of his earliest plays at Buddies. He will be presenting a special one-night engagement of his 2003 solo hit Cul-de-Sac on Fri, Mar 20, with all proceeds going to Buddies. Tickets will be $100.

Other events lined up for March include cabaret nights hosted by Sharon Matthews and Thom Allison, a performance by The Scandelles and a two-night engagement of the 2008 SummerWorks Festival hit The Pastor Phelps Project.

Also starting Feb 28 the Chamber will be open for Saturday dance nights and launching Mar 15 is an open mic piano bar night hosted by Ari Weinberg, Sundays in Tallulah’s Cabaret.

“We’re happy to see the community rallying around Buddies right now and we hope audiences rally as well,” says Oiye.

The March fundraising events are a major financial push in addition to Buddies’ regular ongoing fundraising efforts, says Oiye. Annual fundraising events to be held during Pride are still on schedule.

What caused the sudden financial pinch for the theatre?

“The largest factor is diminished box office returns over a season and a half,” Oiye says, pointing to a trend experienced across many theatres of declining subscriber bases. “Audiences are becoming choosier about coming to certain shows rather than buying the whole season. We also produce edgier work. We’re not a company that puts on nothing but crowdpleasers.”

Also, Buddies did not achieve its fundraising goals for this year. The theatre has seen a decline in private donations. Oiye says donors are keeping a tighter rein on their spending because of the current economic downturn.

“Certain regular donations have not been available to us,” he says.

Buddies also lost a major government grant that supports its queer youth programming. Oiye declined to name the granting agency.

“We have to apply for that arts grant every year and this year the money allocated to theatre projects was not proportionate to the number of theatre applicants,” says Oiye, adding that Buddies will reapply for the grant in the next cycle.

Money from the grant allows Buddies to run monthly queer youth open mic nights, workshops the Young Creators Unit and Pridecab, in which young queer artists are mentored by Buddies artists and given space to create and present new works. Rather than shutter the youth programs after 10 successful years Buddies has chosen to continue them without the grant support.

Oiye says Buddies is currently planning its 2009/10 season with its current financial troubles in mind.

“Our financial difficulties were incorporated into the upcoming season,” Oiye says. “They are smaller shows, more easily achievable. We’re also maximizing rentals of the main Chamber for guest companies to produce shows.”

Previously announced plans for the 2009/10 season, to be comprised entirely of work written by female creators, are still a go, Oiye says.