Is Four the New Ten?
In my review for Becky’s New Car I mentioned the short run earlier in the season of Mexico City and The Russian Play, a double-bill of Hannah Moscovitch one-acts presented locally by Ruby Slippers. This reminded me that Leaky Heaven’s innovative take on A Streetcar Named Desire only had a four day run and indeed, The Boy Who Went Outside by Conrad Alexandrowicz, produced by Wild Excursions and on right now, ends this Sunday after four days.
I’m really looking forward to the Alexandrowicz piece having been wowed by his last show, Beggars Would Ride, perhaps one of the most underappreciated shows to come out of this city since I came back in 2001.
All these short runs got me to wondering whether the four day run is the new ten day run. One of the most shocking things to me on my return to Vancouver was how short most theatre productions were here (on average, ten days). Now, presumably as a result of the recent funding cuts, we are seeing a new trend of even shorter runs, I talked to Allyson McGrane (fellow PLANKer and also GM of Wild Excursions) about this briefly yesterday and she said that the company couldn’t take the financial risk of producing a ten day run, so four it is.
If it is near impossible to create any sort of real momentum with a ten day run, imagine how difficult it will be with only four days. It means that the only people who will come out to see shows will be those particularly devoted to the work and/or to independent theatre. In other words, theatre artists will be producing theatre for themselves because the general public will never hear about the productions.
Allied to this is the fact that the ten day run is built around the review model (ie reviews come out in the second week and help build awareness for a final push on the closing weekend). Now with the move towards online content – with PLANK in the vanguard – this has become a less critical issue than it once was but, still, imagine trying to get your audience down to the theatre in only four days?
In my opinion, theatre needs longer runs not shorter ones to survive and to become more visible on the cultural landscape of this city.
So, I have a modest proposal, one borrowed from the film industry in this country. It is my understanding that Canadian film producers can secure loans to help underwrite production costs. Should the film start to turn a profit, the loan is returned to the central pot in order to be redistributed to the next applicant. What if a central loan system was set up for theatre in Vancouver? What if the loan was made available to support, specifically, the costs of a longer run of a show – say three to four weeks – and that should the show make a profit the loan would be returned to the program for redistribution to the next project.
The amount required to set up this fund would, by government/foundation standards, actually be quite humble and I think there is real potential for it to be sustainable (or at least maintained with small, annual prop ups). Imagine if, for example, Rumble and Pi Theatre’s uber successful After the Quake had run four weeks instead of just ten days. Imagine the increased exposure to audiences that work would have received and how that would have benefited the artists and companies involved. The time and investment made by those involved would have been rewarded through increased revenues which is good for everyone.
The funding model we have in this province is dying before our eyes. We need new ones – and fast – or things are going to turn ugly.