Victoria Symphony, other Royal Theatre users hammered with huge rent increases

Symphony already planning to move half its concerts to UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium

Rental rates for non-profit user groups at the Royal Theatre are rising signficantly. One of those, the Victoria Symphony, plans to move almost half its concerts to UVic as a result. Photo by Terrence Lam

The Victoria Symphony is planning to shift up to 50 per cent of its concert offerings from the Royal Theatre to the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium, as a result of what it calls “exorbitant rental increases” for non-profit groups using the facility starting next season.

Kathryn Laurin, CEO of the Symphony, said their Friday-Saturday rates will jump to $4,000 per day from the current $1,850, Thursdays will be $3,500 and Sunday to Wednesday $2,500 per day. The symphony uses the Royal for close to 50 evenings during the year and needs daytime use of the venue for roughly 35 days. For rehearsal times on weekdays, often when no other performances are scheduled for the theatre, it has paid $800, Laurin said.

This large projected increase in costs for the Symphony is forcing the move to reduce its use of the Royal, she said. Other groups affected by the rent increases are Dance Victoria and Pacific Opera Victoria.

Randy Joynt, manager of external affairs for the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society which operates the CRD-owned venue, said the hike in fees was forced by the continued freeze in public funding levels.

But Laurin argues public financial documents show the Royal Theatre produces a surplus for the society.

“Where they’re struggling is with the McPherson,” she said. “Why would you attack the profitable one, why wouldn’t you focus the energies on the problem child?”

She pointed out that the Symphony, Dance Victoria and Pacific Opera Victoria generate 75 per cent of revenue at the Royal.

Joynt said the three groups are booked for 90 per cent of the prime weekend dates through the year, a situation which leaves very little room for any other presenters.

“As the region grows and the demographics change, we are obligated to provide a wider range of offerings and make the theatre more accessible,” he said.

As part of the changes, the RMTS is hanging onto one prime weekend every month of the year to ensure room for commercial productions.

Also at issue, said Laurin, is the removal of rehearsal time in the theatre between Thursdays and Saturdays, access she said is crucial preparation for a professional musical group that brings in guests performers as part of its mandate.

All of the non-profits have been disappointed in the lack of transparency in negotiations with the RMTS, Laurin said. She added that only two face-to-face meetings happened since the spring and they were more information sessions rather than back and forth discussions.

The moves have left Laurin questioning the RMTS’s commitment to local arts groups. “The three organizations are still very much committed to pursuing this matter and we are hopeful that this can be addressed, because, in our case, half of our concerts are still there.”

Joynt said the RMTS “respects and values the contribution to the arts in the community” of the Symphony and the other groups, and they look forward to the partnership continuing.

The change in venue for the Symphony takes effect September 2019, and Laurin said they are hopeful for understanding in the arts community.

“We are hopeful that our loyal patrons will make this transition with us up to UVic. We look very much forward to continuing to deliver symphonic music of the highest quality.”

editor@mondaymag.com

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