by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
When I moved to Montreal in 1974 there was one theatre that required a bus trip to the end of the line (and to get to that bus, depending on where you lived, required a bus or metro ride to the beginning of the line). People went because the company, long gone, was excellent and played to packed houses. However, the house was tiny and the very professional non-professionals who worked there made not a cent.
Not too long after that, I had a talk with a young director who, in explaining why his alternative company was now performing at Centaur Theatre, was spending the money to do rent the venue. "People don't remember plays or actors, they remember parking spots." This resonated because the little company of my opening paragraph and, later, my own company did exactly the same thing: rent a hall at Centaur.
At some time or another in the life of a small, indie company, pragmatism sets in. Found spaces are well and good, but there are realities.
Let me share some others...
Demanding decent toilette facilities is not a bourgeois whim.
In the first year of The Charlebois Post - Montreal, we sent a mildly disabled reviewer to see a show at a university theatre. The theatre, one of the main performance spaces at McGill had some handicapped access, yes, but had no provisions for walkers, wheel-chairs and canes vs. ice accumulation. So for that performance, even people who had tickets couldn't make it up the ramps to complain. Many of Montreals best small spaces have no handicapped access at all. Even some of the major ones don't. And handicapped toilet facilities? Fehgeddabouddit...
And on toilette facilities? Demanding decent toilette facilities is not a bourgeois whim. A few theatres here have bathrooms you can't use at all during performances and others are just frightening and you wouldn't want to use them at all. Plays longer than two hours or so are, therefore, just a form of cruelty.
Upper-floor spaces with no elevators? Everywhere! - despite an aging audience, spectators with disabilities, spectators with even mild respiratory problems are set aside. Spaces without air-conditioning? Yup! Despite lengthening and hotter summers, theatre lights over the heads of the audience and venues so tiny spectators are cheek-by-jowl.
Now you can't expect venues to accommodate parking, but one can expect a venue to be easily accessible by public transit. One large company I know is on a bus line which, if the show goes over two hours, requires up to a 45 minute wait for the line that serves it, so you get home at midnight sometimes. It's a beautiful venue, but who the fuck needs the trek?
Now back to those found spaces...
I love them. I love the shows that are done in them. But certain disabilities I have keep some of them from me. Beyond the beauty that is theatre - a fine play with a fine cast and fine direction - we all have considerations before plunging to a play. Many of these considerations are never discussed when theatre people plan a production: play length, concessions (hey! coffee, dammit!), group rates, outreach, social networks.
Sadly, every single one of those things should have at least been discussed. But, ultimately, there is only one that can make all the difference...
Location, location, location.
So when the fuck are arts organizations going to get serious about it!