Tuesday, June 24, 2014

After Dark, June 24, 2014

Why We're Changing
CharPo will not be the same in the autumn
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
[This article has been modified]

As of September 1 September 10, CharPo will be covering dance and opera exclusively.

Now, as requested on Facebook and Twitter, the whys.

1) CharPo is at that moment of success where the only place to go is up. The problem is that it would require expansion. In an explosion of circumstances, expansion has become virtually impossible: we are sad to be losing our Editor in Chief in Toronto, Émilie Charlebois, and her associate editor, Dave Ross, who for three years have been working almost thankless jobs. Meanhwhile, Estelle Rosen, our National Editor in Chief and I have been putting in 40 hours of volunteer work per week (which jump to 50 and 60 hours during Fringe season). We cannot do more work. Recruiting, for an all-volunteer organization, is almost a full time job and we cannot put in the time simply because it does not exist.

2) So we examined the lay of the land. Despite the cutbacks at newspapers across the country (and their disappearance in some cities) theatre has managed to carve itself a media presence. There are blogs in virtually every city in the country with honest-to-goodness theatre writers of all sorts (from populist to academic) and they are, often, doing a job that CharPo aspires to. Moreover, after four years of desperate attempts CharPo has never been able to find writers in Edmonton and Halifax which makes a lie of claims to national coverage. 

We tried fund-raising. Nothing. Merchandising. Nope. We even tried partnerships with commercial operations like Indigo. That was laughable.

3) What we do know is that dance is not being covered and a national dialogue about dance (which we decided to cover this year) is a rare thing. So Estelle and I examined that niche. We also discussed the gratitude we receive for any kind of dance coverage we do (and in volunteer work, gratitude is no small thing). So we focussed on that. But why opera? Well, there are two companies - symbolic of opera in Canada - we have worked with virtually hand-in-glove: COC and Against the Grain. We like working with them. We'd miss them. AtG is perhaps the most exciting small company on the continent, and COC, without hyperbole, has become one of the top five houses in the world and in an odd kind of way has a similar spirit of exploration as AtG. And, besides, I am an operaphile. So there was that and that is why the transition. 

4) Then there are the negatives. After four years we realized that if we were ever going to pay the bills we would need a full-time business manager who is prepared to work on commission. Those are few, and none stepped forward. We tried fund-raising. Nothing. Merchandising. Nope. We even tried partnerships with commercial operations like Indigo. That was laughable. I was beginning to feel profoundly guilty about the fact that we were expecting professional level writers - and we have a dozen or so - to review and write for free tickets only. We couldn't even offer an honorarium. When I started the site, I wanted it to be an outlet for writers who write about theatre, but also a training ground for new commentary writers (the huge hole in the Canadian cultural landscape). It has been that and will continue to be that. Because the top of the line writers and the newcomers alike are my friends. Dearly beloved friends who, strange as this may seem, have the same obsessive need to promote and discuss the arts. Go figure.

5) There are companies in theatre who simply cannot handle any kind of commentary about their work and they made our collective lives misery. As we are leaving their spheres I'd like to name them - or at least two in particular but will not: one in Toronto, one in Montreal. The Toronto company is an oft-told tale I will not go into here. Suffice it to say that although we didn't much care if we ever reviewed them again or not; but what was unacceptable was that they dragged two other companies into the fight which we were always raring to cover: Studio 180 and Canadian Repertory Theatre. The company in Montreal is an entirely different case. They'd bitch when we didn't cover them and then bitch out whoever did cover them (and sometimes even when the reviews were positive). Because of them - and them alone - we were losing reviewers in Montreal until our biggest team in Canada became one of the smallest. Now I understand part of that company's problem with The Charlebois Post: Charlebois. I have never, as we say in French, had a wooden tongue (or pen). When you have been writing about theatre for nearly a quarter of a century you are going to piss people off. However, theatre is sometimes surrounded by a wall of bad PR and there are no companies that have walls as impenetrable as those two.

6) Finally, Estelle and I had made a deal at the start of the project: we would check in from time to time to see if we were still having fun. With Émilie and Dave's departures, the fun was fading. We had a long talk, the night before my 57th birthday, and came up with the best birthday gift Estelle could have given me: a new adventure. Despite having studied it in theatre school for three years, I want to learn more about dance (and every article we have ever published about dance has taught me something) and, again, I love opera. Literally, during our convo, the very tone of both our voices changed. When I checked in with our writers, many, many said they wanted to come on this adventure with us. Woooooooot!

So over the next couple of months, when you come to the site, you will see a little less as we prepare for better. There will be design changes, we will say farewell to beloved columnists, we will create ties with new companies across the country (for real). Adventure, you know!

We invite you to come along for the ride.

1 comment:

  1. Just throwing it out there... How do you feel about covering circus arts? With a rapidly expanding presence within the performing arts world, it's still nearly impossible to find knowledgable reviews of circus performance. Something to consider? :)


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