Lack of funding out of the Pandemic, leads to struggles for Winnipeg Theatres

In what’s being called the perfect storm, lack of funding coming out of the pandemic has led to some theatre companies restructuring their organizations, leading to layoffs, reduced workloads, and putting a big question mark on Winnipeg’s usually vibrant art scene as a whole.

The Prairie Theatre Exchange knows this far too well, as they are undergoing a restructuring that saw seven positions impacted in a variety of ways, ranging from termination, and reduced workload, to amalgamation of positions resulting in new hires. Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones says this wasn’t their first choice, but still had to be done.

“It’s not just a Winnipeg thing or a PTE thing, it’s across this country and certainly across the entire world, there’s a crisis in the theatre sector globally,” explained Thomas Morgan Jones, the artistic director of Prairie Theatre Exchange.

“So revenues are down and expenses are up and there’s every different type of reason why that might I think people because of inflation and cost of living they have less to spend, but then on our side everything is more expensive to build, but when you put that together as a math equation it makes it difficult to move forward.”

Jones says while the goal of restructuring is to give them stability for the immediate years, to ultimately usher the company into a new era of regrowth, he says in the short term they need Winnipeggers to show their support, not only at PTE but also to every theatre in town.

“Come see some of the amazing shows this season and next season, go to all the theatres in the community, and bring a friend, and as most of the revenue we are missing this year and going forward is lack of ticket revenue so the more people come to the theatre the healthier the entire theatre ecology and our city as a whole,” said Jones.

PTE isn’t the only theatre that has been forced to make changes.

Artistic and General Director at Théâtre Cercle Molière Geneviève Pelletier says while the pandemic really exacerbated the issue, she feels the arts have always been underfunded and undervalued for a long time, which she says does need to be addressed.

“We’ve had to shift gears or core values from being a closed-in community entre theatre to a very local national and international theatre, and wanting to give voice to marginalized voices and that’s really the way we have been able to find new voices,” explained Pelletier.

“We have not been increased in funding from the Manitoba Arts Council in 20 years and so basically that just means a decrease every year with a variety of different things we need to tackle.”

Pelletier says funding is the main issue, there is really a culmination of different factors leading to struggles that are happening to all align at the exact same time.

“There’s also the fact that we have a again population, with a younger population, with a diverse population and all these things are coming to a head that didn’t exist 10, 15, 20 years ago where things were slightly more homogenous I find,” said Pelletier.

Theatres aren’t the only ones affected by all this, independent artist Ardith Boxall who spent most her life involved with Theatre, including as the former Artistic Director for Theatre Projects Manitoba, where she worked for 17 years, says restructuring affects everyone.

“There’s never enough work, and there wasn’t enough work during COIVD and everyone struggles to keep artists working and it’s not just actors its directors, it’s designers, it’s technicians, and administrators, and support staff that takes so many people to get creative work on stage, so when there a shift in output there will be less work for everyone,” explained Boxall.

While people coming out to see the shows will help in the short term, Boxall says more needs to be done.

“Funding agencies which are the different levels of government, we need responses and collaboration with them, and in terms of independent artists a basic universal income is one the potential greatest stabilizers for those working in creative industries.”

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