Royal Theatre rate hikes on hold for now; user groups remain unhappy

Symphony, Pacific Opera, Dance Victoria call for public consultation on future use of Royal

A move to hike rental rates for not-for-profit arts groups at the Royal Theatre has been delayed, but three of the primary user groups still want the public to weigh in on the future use and purpose of the aging theatre. Photo by Terrence Lam

Greater Victoria not-for-profit arts groups using the Royal Theatre have secured a delay in the implementation of rental rate hikes and booking policies that will require them to find new venues for their rehearsals and some shows.

But there remains political sticking points between the operators – the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society (RMTS) – and user groups including the Victoria Symphony, Pacific Opera Victoria and Dance Victoria.

Following further negotiations, the groups will now have two years’ notice of any rent increases, and three years for any changes to booking policies. But the RMTS remains set on finding ways to offer more arts and entertainment options for the public at the Royal Theatre. That includes opening up desirable dates currently used for rehearsals by the three groups, as a way to allow other groups and touring shows to use the space.

In a joint statement, the arts groups acknowledged the delay, but took issue with what they call “access restrictions, which are being made to displace non-profit arts organizations from this publicly owned arts facility, for the benefit of commercial promoters.”

They called again for public consultation to determine the future use and purpose of the theatre.

“We seek the assistance of the Councils of Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay and the CRD to endorse a collaborative process to address the sustainability of the Royal Theatre and align the mandate of the RMTS with Victoria’s Cultural Policy,” the statement read.

According to the RMTS, the Victoria Symphony, Dance Victoria and Pacific Opera Victoria occupy more than 90 per cent of the prime dates in the Royal during the peak theatre-going season between Labour Day and Victoria Day, and 60 per cent of every day during that period. The RMTS statement went on to say the changes will see the days the theatre is allowed to sit idle or where “excessive set-up and rehearsal days are booked” will be reduced, thereby allowing more entertainment options for the region.

The society, also a not-for-profit organization, reiterated that it has not had a government funding increase for 21 years and continues to subsidize not-for-profit arts groups with reduced rates, a situation it finds unsustainable.

RMTS president Lorne DeLarge said in the statement that the meetings that resulted in the RMTS’s delayed actions were “productive.”

“It was heartening to hear all parties recognize that changes need to be made at the Royal Theatre so that it better serves the region,” he said. “The three not-for profit organizations asked for more time to adjust to the changes, and our board heard that request.”

An additional move related to booking policy was announced, that in consideration of Pacific Opera Victoria’s 40th anniversary season, new booking policies for POV will not take effect until September 2021.

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