The Arts Club Theatre Company is a non-profit and is the largest of its kind in all of Canada. With three separate venues, this Vancouver-based non-profit offers a range of productions both new and classic works, as well as educational programs for the public. We spoke with Peter Cathie White, Executive Director of the Arts Club Theatre Company to learn more about them!
Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.
The Arts Club Theatre Company is a not-for-profit registered charity and the largest urban not-for-profit theatre company in Canada. The company produces theatre in three local venues: the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, the Granville Island Stage, and the Newmont Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre, as well as on tour throughout BC and Canada. We are a local company and we create our shows locally. We do not bring in commercial tours of productions but, like our current production of Kinky Boots, build them from scratch using local artisans here in this community. We commission local playwrights for new Canadian plays and next season, out of
thirteen separate productions, have four new Canadian plays on our stages. In addition, the Arts Club provides educational programs and engagement initiatives at our venues and in the community.
What problem does it aim to solve?
On the old paper $20 bill, there was a quote from Quebec poet Gabrielle Roy that said “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?” And the answer is no, we couldn’t. It is through the arts that we build both a local and national identity. The arts build culture and the arts help us understand who we are, as well as understand those who may not be like us. At the Arts Club, we envision a community that, through story-telling, is inspired to reflect on who we are and who we can be. As mentioned, we are also a local company, and we, therefore, employ local artists and artisans to create our productions. We are a part of an ecosystem necessary to make Vancouver a liveable city for artists and an attractive city for non-arts workers to reside in.
When did you start/join it?
I joined the company in 2003 as the Marketing Manager, became the Director of Sales and Marketing in 2004, and the Executive Director in 2014. So, I have been here 19 years–36% of my life!
What made you want to get involved?
I am originally from Australia and studied Musical Theatre at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts before coming to Canada. So I have always loved theatre. I wasn’t an athletic kid or one with lots of friends, and I found my people and my place in the theatre growing up. It taught me to have my own voice and embrace who I am. Theatre encourages experimentation and values honesty, emotion, and passion. Without it, I don’t believe I would have the self-confidence I possess today. Theatre becomes a home and a place of connection and deep emotional solace. So to end up working at, and co-running, a large theatre company like the Art Club is itself an expression of my love for theatre and theatrical artists.
What was the situation like when you started?
The Arts Club is a local company created by local artists for local artists. It wasn’t created in the Federal regional theatre push of the 60s (in Vancouver that theatre company was the Playhouse). Instead, we grew organically from a group of artists doing up space above a club called the Arts Club on Seymour Street. From the beginning, the Arts Club’s focus has been local–engaging with local artists and commissioning local playwrights. When I started we were going through a rough patch. We had renovated the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage but had not raised enough money to do so, and had a large mortgage to contend with that placed a real
burden on our operating budgets. We had a few deficit years in the early 2000s that were very difficult.
How has it changed since?
Since then we created our own Foundation now owns the Stanley and took the mortgage off our operating season budgets. Since then we have built a permanent endowment in our Foundation to help support the company. We bought our own ticketing and donation software so that we could have control of our own inventory rather than be beholden to a third-party ticketing agent. We simplified our ticketing options and grew our audience. In 2015, we created an Education program that now runs community drama programs for youth in our facilities and in the community with free after-school programs in local secondary schools like Britannia and community centres like Ray-Cam. We offer free playwriting programs for youth, acting and musical theatre intensives, and self-devised theatre programs that let teens devise works that they perform in showcases on our stages. And we built a new theatre in the Olympic Village, the Newmont Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre, as well as administration offices and rehearsal halls that we share with Bard on the Beach. Then, of course, the pandemic hit…
What more needs to be done?
Now we find ourselves climbing our way out of the pandemic and all the pain it brought down on the not-for-profit arts sector. We lost over 90% of our regular revenue and survived only through the generosity of our patrons and community who really stepped up with donations to keep the company going. So now we need to rebuild our capacity to create theatre, both financial capacity and human capacity.
How can our readers help?
The Arts Club has commissioned and produced over 120 new Canadian plays in our 58 years. That’s a mighty contribution to the canon of Canadian plays. And we have produced over 700 productions. These are all built in our production shop on Granville Island with costumes built in our wardrobe shop in the Olympic Village, and all employ local artists and local creative teams. So support local! You can help us by coming to see a production and help us even further by donating, even if it’s a small amount, to show your support for local professional theatre.
Do you have any events coming up?
We will remount our spring hit, Made in Italy, at our Granville Island Stage from July 28. And from September, when we launch our 2022–2023 season with Peter Pan Goes Wrong (which is a self-explanatory title and a hoot!), we will produce thirteen productions at our three theatres with over 600 performances between September 2022 and August 2023.
Where can we follow you?
To book tickets or donate you can find us on our website, and you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity/non-profit that you love?
I am a great believer in the arts and think that, especially after the pandemic, every not-for-profit arts organization needs support. So I would encourage your readers to support, in any way they can, any local charitable arts organization. We all need that support so much right now. We also work with a charity called VocalEye whose mission is to provide greater access to the arts for blind or partially sighted people. They provide audio description services to ensure that those with vision loss can understand more fully the visuals associated with a live performance. I love that we have them in this community.