London

London's Grand Theatre announces first deficit in 21 years

For the first time in 21 years, the Grand Theatre is reporting a deficit of more than $65,000 as a result of a shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite an over $65k deficit, theatre will 'survive,' executive director says

The Grand Theatre in London, Ont., is currently undergoing a $9-million renovation that is set to finish March 2021, around a year after it was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by: Jennifer Matthews)

For the first time in 21 years, the Grand Theatre is reporting a deficit of more than $65,000 as a result of a shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The year was a "tough" one for the theatre, but the Grand is "much more than a balance sheet," executive director Deb Harvey said in a news release following the theatre's annual general meeting held Monday via Zoom.

"We've been managed to have a surplus every year, so it's pretty hard on us to have that in the theater," Harvey told CBC London on Monday.

The theatre had to shutter its doors to the public on March 13 as part of the mandated shutdown, much before the season was set to end at the beginning of May. 

At the time, Harvey said, the company was "on a roll" and experiencing a really successful season.

But attendance at the theatre dropped to 65,501 from 104,156 last year with 79 fewer performances as a result of the shortened season. 

Attendance at the theatre dropped to 65,501 from 104,156 last year with 79 fewer performances as a result of the shortened season due to the pandemic, according to a news release. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

"Artistically and creatively, there is no question that we were on an amazing trajectory," artistic director Dennis Garnhum said in a news release. "The most difficult part of these last six months has been the loss of work of our dedicated employees and artists."

This year, the theatre hired a total of 280 people — down from 343 the year before — and contributed over $4.5 million in salaries.

Ticket sales accounted for 45 per cent of earned revenue making up a total of $2.7 million of the budget. This was down from $4.3 million in sales from the previous year.

While the year-end result of a deficit is "disappointing," Harvey said, it would have been much higher had the theatre not added performance disruption coverage to its insurance policy last year. 

The theatre was unaware at the time what opting for this extra coverage would mean for the company and its ability to financially recover from the shutdown, she said.

But had it not been for that, as well as government support, the deficit would have been well over $500,000.

Taking a look at diversity, equity

With the extra time, Harvey said, the theatre worked toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive company.

"It's really clear our industry is also examining itself in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, and this intermission year is a perfect time to rethink, reset and examine ourselves and come back better, stronger, more diverse and more inclusive," Harvey said. 

"We're being called upon to take some action, and we're ready to do that."

The work is being done with the theatre's Anti-Oppression Committee, Garnhum said, to understand what it means to be "world curious and London proud."

"We are theatre people, and by nature that means we are creative, optimistic and resilient, and we have much to look forward to in the coming months and years, not the least of which is the work we are doing internally with our Anti-Oppression Committee," he said in the media release.

 "In spite [of] the obstacles before us, we continue to investigate what it means to be world curious and London proud."

Renovations to finish March 2021

The theatre is currently undergoing a $9-million renovation that is set to finish in mid-March of 2021, around a year after the theatre was forced to shut down in 2020.

The renovation project is a partnership with private funders, as well as the federal government, municipalities and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

It was initially set to begin after the theatre's last scheduled performance on May 3 but was postponed until late summer.

But despite the show having to stop this year for COVID-19 and accrue a deficit for the company, Harvey believes it's all up from here.

"Theater will survive, this company will survive, and when we come back, if ever we take anything for granted, like theater, like getting together, like collaborating like rehearsals, like being together in this building — we will never take that for granted again," Harvey said.

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