British Columbia

Low Canadian dollar leading arts groups to reconsider programming choices

Top U.S. talent and royalty fees are often paid in U.S. dollars, causing budget overruns for festivals and arts organizations across the country.

Top U.S. talent and royalty fees are often paid in U.S. dollars, causing budget pain for many

Vancouver Opera says it's still negotiating one of its contracts for its upcoming production of Evita because of the low Canadian dollar. (Edel Rodriguez/Vancouver Opera)

Festivals and arts organizations across the country say the low Canadian dollar is costing them thousands in budget overruns, forcing them to reconsider their programming choices.

Talent, royalty fees and sets for some of Canada's biggest productions often come from south of the border and are contracted in U.S. dollars.

Vancouver Opera's Tom Wright says the low Canadian dollar is costing the company thousands of dollars. (Vancouver Opera)

But with the Canadian dollar dipping below 70 cents last week, those contracts are now looking a lot more expensive than when they were initially negotiated.

"Certainly moving on for the next couple of years I have to take a closer look at who I'm taking in, because I'm going to get a lot of push back from artists and artist managers about fees," said Vancouver Opera's director of artistic planning, Tom Wright.

With the opera's top artists earning up to $20,000 per performance, negotiating fees in U.S. dollars could now have an even more substantial impact on the company's bottom line.

The opera also rents its sets from the U.S., and pays its royalty fees in the same currency.

Mining local talent

The plummeting exchange rate has prompted Vancouver Opera and other arts organizations to reconsider whether or not to continue hiring talent from outside of Canada.

"It's forcing us to be creative in our programming choices and think about things we can do domestically that might be exciting to our audiences," said Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival executive director Paul Snepsts.

Snepsts's festival usually relies on internationally-recognized talent to fill its headliner series, which drives ticket sales.

Last year, the festival brought in Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon. But that level of comic can cost Snepsts up to $80,000.

Toronto's Sketch Comedy Festival is hiring more Canadian talent like comedy duo Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring because of the low dollar.

This year, the festival is mining Canada for comedians in its top spot. So far its headlining acts include a live performance of This is That with Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring. Snepsts says the programming choice appears to be successful so far.

Still, he wonders what will happen to the dollar in the long term.

"People are talking about a 60 cent dollar. And if that were to happen inside of the next three months, that could kill you, I mean that could absolutely gut you as a promoter, as a presenter," he said.

The plus side

Still, some organizations are trying to find a bright side to the low loonie.

Roxanne Duncan, managing director of Vancouver's PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, which starts next week, said she hopes the exchange rate will encourage U.S. tourists from Seattle and Portland to make their way north and take in a few shows.

Roxanne Duncan with the PuSh Festival says the low Canadian dollar could encourage Vancouverites to stay in the city to spend their entertainment budget. (Courtesy Roxanne Duncan)

She also said it could be an opportunity to encourage those who would normally go south to "staycation" instead and realize how much their own cities have to offer.

"We hope that it might make Vancouverites take a closer look at what's happening in their own city," she said. "To look around and realize, actually, you have a world-class festival and it's right here in your city."

Duncan said fluctuating currencies are really just one of many things she worries about in the industry.

"I'm more concerned about the ongoing instability of our government funding and our corporate support, and are people going to come out of their house that night if it's raining?" she said. "Those are the bigger factors that are difficult or impossible to get ahead of."

Vancouver's PuSh Festival is hoping the low Canadian dollar will attract U.S. patrons to Vancouver to see performances like Holy Body Tattoo's Monumental. (Chris Randle/Holy Body Tattoo)


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