Port Theatre asks city to help cover deficit

Poor ticket sales and less rental income leads to first shortfall in theatre's 14-year history

The first deficit in its 14-year history is pushing the Port Theatre to ask for more money from the City of Nanaimo.

The theatre on Nanaimo’s waterfront faces a shortfall of $114,000 this year caused by poor ticket sales, higher operating costs and fewer rentals by community groups.

“This is the first time we’ve ever experienced a shortfall,” said Glynis Hayes, president of the Port Theatre Society board, which operates the facility on behalf of the city. “We’ve been very proud of our performance over the past 14 years.”

The society is asking the city for $74,500 from the capital reserve to help offset this year’s deficit and to increase the annual operating grant by $90,000.

The Port Theatre receives $454,000 in operating expenses annually from the city, plus $65,270 from the Regional District of Nanaimo. The RDN contribution is based on a referendum in 2002 and the theatre requested an increase there as well earlier this month.

The theatre also receives grants from other levels of government, including the B.C. Arts Council and Canadian Heritage, which helps present the annual Spotlight Series.

Poor ticket sales on that series, which focuses on artistic merit over solely commercial appeal, is one of the reasons for the deficit.

A 35-per cent decrease in theatre rentals by community groups also contributed, part of a trickle-down effect from cuts to provincial grants for arts and culture groups over the past three years. The Vancouver Island Children’s Festival, which folded shortly after the provincial funding cut, represented 10 rental days annually.

Programming is finalized at least a year in advance, which makes it difficult to respond to immediate changes in economics, like the provincial grant cut. But Hayes said the theatre is cutting back where it can, by postponing capital costs.

The 12 full-time staff also opted not to have a Christmas party, she added.

“We’ve already made adjustments, thinking forward, to programming,” Hayes said. “We’re already running on bare bones.”

The Port Theatre’s request went before city council’s committee of the whole Monday afternoon.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com

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