Montreal’s Mainline Theatre faces closure — Updated (yes, already)

Yesterday, Montreal’s Mainline Theatre — best known in Toronto as the company that produces the Montreal Fringe — made a desperate plea to the theatre community to help it raise $15,000 by the end of the month or else close its doors for good.

Mainline’s announcement is vague on the details that have led to this urgency, explaining “recent changes in the political and economic landscapes hit us hard and fast.” But they were rather more candid with The Gazette’s Pat Donnelly, who posted a blog entry and a story about it, which reveal that politics and economics have very little to do with the immediate crisis.

Essentially, the theatre is suffering for the fact that government grants are arriving later in the year than usual, compounded with the board’s sudden decision to stop “selling” alcohol at the theatre, which means holiday rentals are projected to bring in far less revenue, and certain “unexpected bills” (For what, Donnelly? You’re not writing a mystery novel!). Debts and obligations are thus piling up.

Now, Donnelly doesn’t get an explanation about the board’s decision to hobble the theatre’s income at precisely the worst possible time. Hypotheses: The theatre is unlicensed (which is why it doesn’t “sell” beer, it gives it away in exchange for specifically requested donations), and either the board decided to preemptively halt an illegal practice, or Mainline is reacting to a specific government crackdown. This would sound unusual for Quebec, but the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario regularly cracks down on arts venues and charities who serve without permits. Certainly, if Mainline was unlicensed, they were pretty brazen about flouting the law. But if all they needed was a license, then why not simply apply for one and get one? (I don’t know liquor law in Quebec; Mainline may have been forced to make expensive health and safety upgrades to the venue, hired licensed staff/security, etc.)

As Mainline’s plea notes, the small indie theatre on St. Laurent has helped launch lots of successful small English-language theatre companies in Quebec. It’s also one of the key venues and the main office for the Montreal Fringe. Montreal unfortunately doesn’t have a lot of venues like this, so it would be nice to keep it around.

If they’re unsuccessful and are forced to shut the doors, Donnelly clarifies that the Montreal Fringe will continue, but it will face a few obstacles: notably, it’ll still be on the hook for Mainline’s debts, which is one of those concerns I’ve noted about the festival before (it’s non-profit in the sense that profits from the festival can be directed toward Mainline, which is itself a registered charity); it’ll also have to find a new office space and replace one of its venues at additional cost. But it’s also possible that losing the theatre may slim down the organization to focus on the festival itself. Who knows?

In any event, while I won’t be donating, I wish them well. It’s always sad to see a theatre venue disappear, so if you can afford it and have good memories associated with Mainline Theatre, donate here.

[UPDATE: Mainline has announced that 24 hours into the crisis, they’re already 1/3 of the way to the goal, having raised more than $5000. There’s a Facebook page where you can track their progress.]

On a related note, I’ve been in touch with Fringe ED Amy Blackmore directly about some of the concerns I’ve expressed with the Montreal Fringe here and on Charlebois Post. She’s very graciously told me she’ll get back to me with detailed responses to several questions soon — she’s understandably busy with grant writing (and the above) right now. I do hope that our conversation is fruitful. My goal is to build up the theatre community, not tear it down.

Also, I’m planning a more detailed post about the Toronto Fringe’s CDAP program specifically and cultural diversity on stage more broadly. I have also been inundated with grant writing and work this week, so I’ve had to slow down blogging.


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