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G20 casts shadow over Toronto arts

Mirvish, others shutter shows for the week

The G20 Summit may be devoted to seeking economic stability around the world, but it’s causing financial disaster for the performing arts in Toronto.

With the summit set to take place June 26-27 — and a cloud of fear hanging over the event after riots at previous summits in Pittsburgh, London and Vancouver — two mega-musicals are suspending performances for a week, the nation’s major ballet company is facing lost revenue on a high-budget premiere, and a bunch of smaller companies will have to shoulder debilitating losses as well.

Over the past two weeks, the downtown core of Toronto has been turned into a war zone, with cement walls erected to keep people away from the numerous glass bank towers, streets reduced by several lanes and a “security zone” established that will require area residents to show photo ID to access their apartments.

The climate of paranoia hasn’t been helped by Mayor David Miller, who’s urged all citizens to keep away from downtown, or the U.S. State Dept., which issued an advisory warning Americans not to visit Toronto.

Hardest hit has been Mirvish Prods., with productions of “Mamma Mia!” and “Rock of Ages” running a block apart in the heart of the restricted area.

Mirvish Prods. chose to close both shows for the entire week surrounding the G20, resulting in a loss of C$2 million ($1.95 million) in revenue.

David Mirvish took a philosophical approach: “What’s important is doing what’s best in terms of being good hosts to a conference that may eventually benefit the world, if some good decisions come out of it. In the end, it is only a week out of a yearlong season of shows.”

But while Mirvish can point potential ticketbuyers toward future performances, the National Ballet of Canada has a different problem.

Its production of “Onegin,” opening Saturday, has a strictly limited run, and there is no possibility of moving it.

“Our subscribers bought these tickets 18 months ago,” said general manager Kevin Garland. “Our theater, the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts, is also in the most vulnerable area of downtown, just down from the American Embassy and two of the major hotels. At the very least, we’re anticipating several hundred thousand dollars of lost revenue.”

The Toronto Jazz Festival can, of course, only guess at the G20’s impact on its sales, but the political confab coincides with some of its highest-profile opening weekend acts, including Harry Connick Jr. The organization has been forced to lodge artists far from downtown at exorbitant rates, since the G20 has taken all prime hotel rooms.

Bucking the trend is Toronto’s Second City Company, which is brazenly offering $20 tickets all week and a $35 dinner-theater package with eight area restaurants that are daring to remain open.

“We’ll have lots of sketches making fun of the G20 as well,” said producer Klaus Schuller.

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