Slipping profits

Local theatre companies remain confident despite StatsCan report

Zaz Bajon, general manager of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, says there’s a mixed bag of financial situations among theatre groups acrsoss the country. Christopher Friesen

A new report from Statistics Canada may appear to spell trouble for non-profit theatre groups, but Manitoba remains relatively stable.

Canada’s performing arts industry generated operating revenues of $1.2 billion in 2007, up 2.8 per cent from 2006, the new report shows. The report states that all performing arts disciplines posted a surplus, however, non-profit theatre suffered losses of 1.6 per cent.

Despite the report, it’s far too early to predict the future of non-profit theatres, said Zaz Bajon, general manager of the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

“You can’t say it’s the economy,” Bajon said. “It’s too early for that, but maybe next year we’ll feel it.”

While Bajon admitted that corporate sponsorships are down, and that the state of the economy dictates the amount of sponsorships and donations given out, he said that between his colleagues across the country, there’s a mixed bag of financial situations.
“We’re all running on tighter budgets, but it’s not a given that there’s deficits out there,” he said.

Bajon also conceded that the MTC will run an operating deficit this year – but stressed it has nothing to do with the state of the economy. Bajon explained that the MTC is coming off a record-setting year and budgeted for a deficit to maintain momentum for their upcoming 50th anniversary.

“You’re not going to set a record every year,” Bajon said. “Some shows do well, others don’t. Doing bigger shows costs more money because of the scenery or costumes but it’s to keep people coming out and seeing our plays.”

However, other theatre companies in the city aren’t faring as well as the MTC. This year, the Rainbow Stage was forced to cut its winter production and only put on one show for the year.

“It was clear that we were in a situation where it would be fiscally responsible for the board to make the decision because of the circumstances,” said Penny McMillan, business manager for Rainbow Stage. “There’s no question that times are very tight and we’re watching things closely.”

The Rainbow Stage has been operating as a non-profit for the past 55 years, and McMillan said that despite production cuts and setbacks in public funding and corporate sponsorships, the company remains in a good financial position.

“We’re trying to be very diligent in securing sponsorships where we can and encourage supporters to make donations,” McMillan said. “The critical side is trying to manage costs…. It’s about maximizing every dollar.”

Martine Friesen, theatre consultant for the Manitoba Arts Council, said that organizations in the city are concerned about the economic situation, but pointed out Manitoba remains relatively stable. According to the Statistics Canada report, non-profits in Manitoba posted a 1.7 per cent increase in operating profit margins.

“[The economy] fluctuates all the time,” Friesen said. “There are certain things you can’t forecast. Private sector funding is taking a dip and all arts organizations are going to have less money in their coffers. Or for some reason people don’t come out or you don’t get that grant you applied for. It’s not a science.”

Bajon is optimistic, though.

“The arts have done OK historically during a recession. In the 1930s, people were going to movies and theatres because they wanted to laugh. People want to be entertained so they’ll go out and won’t stay home and watch television or sit on the Internet forever.”

Published in Volume 63, Number 26 of The Uniter (April 2, 2009)

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