Theatre looks to buddies to survive bad times

Buddies in Bad Times is living up to its name.

The 30-year-old Toronto theatre troupe recently cancelled a major March production, Gay for Pay, in part because of the downturn in the economy. Nevertheless, David Oiye, Buddies’ artistic director, says he and his theatre company are ready to hit back – and they’ve got re-enforcements.

“The fortunate thing is that Buddies has a long history and a lot of artists involved in that history,” Oiye said. “And a lot of them came forward voluntarily to support the need of the company.”

Oiye has organized a series of fundraising performances set for March, and the theatre has its own “buddies” – Daniel MacIvor and burlesque company the Scandelles to name a few – on board.

The demise of Gay for Pay resulted from what Oiye called “an erosion” of finances – smaller losses spread across a series of productions that eventually added up.

As well, government funding issues played a part. Buddies, like many arts organizations, relies on support from Canada Council for a major part of its funding. However, Grace Thrasher, acting senior communications manager for the federal funding agency, suggests that despite greater funding allocated for theatre programs, the increase does not get equally distributed.

“The budget for one program might remain the same as it was (the previous year), but it could have increased for another program,” Thrasher said. “This increase in the funding has meant that we are (also) able to fund more organizations.”

She also noted that the number of applications and the subsequent funding for specific programs varies from year to year.

Still, others in the Toronto theatre community share Oiye’s view that groups such as Buddies will find a way to rebound from the recession.

Dave Bennett, a talent agent with Talent House, represents actors throughout Canada and the U.S. Over his 14-year career, he has witnessed theatre companies coping successfully with financial crises, including those in New York following Sept. 11, 2001. Bennett sees no reason why Toronto can’t eventually do the same.

“I think that companies, who are fiscally responsible and are prepared and willing to adapt, will continue on,” Bennett said. “There are lots of companies that have been around for 50 or more years and this isn’t the first time they’ve encountered (an economic crisis.)”

As for Oiye and Buddies in Bad Times, with a fundraising campaign on the horizon, they remain realistic, but confident, that adaptation will ensure success.

“We’ll survive,” Oiye said. “It’s just how we do things that might have to change.”