Appeared in the North Shore News – May 9, 2014
You often hear something described as ‘unbelievable.’ It rarely is. But this I rate high on my personal unbelievability scale.
Ever heard of a group declining to enter a competition – because it fears it might win? Sounds like a brilliant theme for a witty comedy. Which is appropriate. This head-shaking fear of success afflicts Theatre West Van. Whereby hangs a tale.
The narrative begins with a puzzlement. In the list of plays in the annual Theatre BC North Shore Zone Festival of Plays – which began Monday at Presentation House in North Vancouver and concludes Saturday night, adjudicated by fine actor and director David Mackay – an entry by TWV was noticeable by its absence. The festival draws plays from Deep Cove to Pemberton. But no TWV, a six-time festival best-play winner since 1997.
Stranger yet, on various dates before, during and after the festival, TWV is staging its own play: Fawlty Towers, directed by Damian Inwood, based on the madly funny television series (and with Simon Drake successfully, and gamely, playing the role that John Cleese will forever be identified with). It opened May 2 and closes May 17; check dates at theatrewestvan.com.
This scheduling clash between TWV and the festival looks as insane as a John Cleese skit. It isn’t unprecedented. Nor is it one scheming to upstage the other.
I asked Anne Marsh what’s going on.
Marsh embodies the indispensable, longtime Ms. Everywoman of North Shore theatre, the kind needed by little theatres everywhere: Example, wearing hats both as festival administrator and publicist for just about every North Shore play, and program producer and sound engineer for Fawlty Towers – simultaneously.
Marsh was commendably frank. It’s all about money.
“A couple of years in the recent past, Theatre West Van has entered and won the Zone Festival and was required to go to Maple Ridge and Kamloops for the finals. This puts a heavy financial burden on the club, which is definitely the poor man amongst groups on the North Shore,” Marsh explained.
“The club was therefore afraid that it might win again and be faced with, say, $10,000 to transport the cast and crew to Kamloops (the resident site of the provincial finals these days).”
And the timing of Fawlty Towers wasn’t TWV’s choice. It was scooped by other bookings: On a First Name Basis, by Canadian playwright Norm Foster, a favourite of mine, and Booktopia. Great business for the Kay Meek.
There’s more. “Theatre West Van has to pay over $7,500 to rent the Studio Theatre at the Kay Meek Centre, as well as abiding by all the union rules and times of operation from the technicians – an onerous situation,” Anne Marsh said. “The other groups on the North Shore (Deep Cove Stage Society and North Vancouver Community Players) can come and go as they please in their theatres, and have a much longer lead time to start setting up their productions. Theatre West Van is restricted to the Sunday before opening.” So the sets have to be struck when space is rented to other users, and then rebuilt on the Wednesdays.
Alison Jopson, TWV vice-president and liaison with the Kay Meek Centre (another multi-tasker: She played murder victim Mrs. Boyle in Agatha Christie’s classic The Mousetrap last year), clarifies this point: “Although the set has to be dismantled and then reconstructed some weeks (not all), this is done by the Meek at their expense and this is something we appreciate. .. as it saves us paying for dark nights.” (My interjection: Yes, and the high union wages doubtless are folded into the rent.) Jopson stresses that TWV has a good relationship with Kay Meek operations director Galen Olstead.
Is there a solution to this hand-to-mouth existence for a theatre company in this ultrarich town? Back to the founding deal, perhaps: The theatre shares its handsome space with abutting West Vancouver secondary under an innovative joint-use agreement between the West Van school board and the West Vancouver Arts Centre Trust. Mutually beneficial? Yes. But worth revisiting? Definitely.
Alcohol and drug addicts are treated sympathetically by the public and their proxy media reporters and commentators in these enlightened days, not like the bad old times when such addiction – often covered up by empty vows to reform, stealthy evasion, enabling by family and friends, and outright lying – was considered a character failure and not an illness requiring counselling and medical treatment.
Unless you happen to be a politically conservative mayor of Toronto. Then there is no limit to the relentless ambush, the invasion of privacy, the heartlessness and the cruelty explained and justified as the public’s right to know and other noble pronunciamentos of the media. How clever some of the witty wisecracks. How insatiable the public’s appetite. How seedy, selective and hypocritical our societal and personal ethics.
© Trevor Lautens, 2014