Canadian theater takes a hit

Economy forces cancellations, seat reductions

TORONTO — It may have taken a bit longer than it did in the U.S., but the legit industry in Canada has begun to show signs of vulnerability to the current economic downturn.

Theaters have begun canceling shows, reducing seating capacities and slashing prices in an attempt to survive a situation whose full extent probably hasn’t yet been felt.

The first major Toronto theater to admit its problems openly has been Buddies in Bad Times, the city’s 30-year-old nonprofit devoted to gay themes and artists.

The theater has cancelled its final mainstage show of the season, “Gay4Pay,” an examination of the male-for-male sex trade. “This was not a happy decision to make,” admitted a.d. David Oiye. “But it will see us through the cash crunch.”

Over at Canadian Stage Company, the city’s largest regional (searching for another artistic producer with Martin Bragg stepping down after 17 years), execs are trying to camouflage soft sales as a marketing strategy.

For its upcoming show, “Miss Julie: Freedom Summer,” the theater is not selling balcony seats until the orchestra is full while offering lower-priced seats downstairs. Total sales are about one-third of capacity, according to a box office staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Perhaps more surprisingly, things aren’t much different for the high-profile commercial musical productions.

David Mirvish closed the second balcony for the venue hosting “Dirty Dancing” last fall, shortly after its first anniversary, and the production is offering $33 seats for weeknights. Queen songfest “We Will Rock You,” about to hit its second anniversary, is hawking ducats at $28 for selected shows this month.

And the Dancap Prods. tour of Garry Marshall’s musical “Happy Days” has been offering $25 tickets if you enter the word “cool” on its promotional website.

Even the hit shows, such as Mirvish’s “The Sound of Music” and Dancap’s “Jersey Boys,” are offering package deals of tickets with reduced pricetags. A U.S.-based travel website, Travelzoo, was selling seats for the upcoming run of “The Color Purple” in Toronto for as little as $16.50 at selected perfs.

John Karastamatis, head of communications at Mirvish, insisted that sales remain solid, and recent performances of “We Will Rock You” and “The Sound of Music” attended at random were at capacity. But there was a time when no such discounts were available for hit Toronto musicals.

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