My name is Gordon Patrick White, and I am an actor from Newfoundland. When I graduated university at 24, I planned to work my way across the country, and decide where I wanted to live when I got to BC.
I got as far as Toronto and turned around.
There were a lot of reasons. I was very headstrong, very green, and thought I would take the city by storm. I wasn’t prepared for Toronto. Hundreds of people were showing up to the same auditions. I was surprised by the racism and ignorance I encountered. I did not even have a job or a place to live. I got an offer to go back to Newfoundland, and I didn’t return to the “big city” for a long time.
I lived out of a suitcase for 3 years. I kept landing in Halifax and the Nova Scotia area. I worked with a lot of talented people, good people. I saw work from some of the theatre companies: Ship’s Company, Festival Antigonish, Two Planks and a Passion, and more. I hung around the Atlantic Fringe Festival, which had a vibrant, fun energy. Halifax is the home of Neptune Theatre, the biggest theatre company in the Atlantic Provinces. At the time, there was a booming TV and film industry. The theatre community was warm and welcoming. Halifax was just big enough, and not too big. It was affordable. And Nova Scotia still had the ocean, something I didn’t realize I would miss.
Today, I see things differently.
Rents in the city have soared bringing them closer to other major cities in the country, but the wages are still low. Downtown is filled with closed buildings and others waiting to be torn down to make condos. I see people struggling to make ends meet. So their spending for an evening out has gone down.
The theatres are also struggling to make ends meet. Audiences are down everywhere, the costs to produce are getting higher, and the funding has not increased. Rehearsal times get shorter, casts get smaller, the run – and even the season – shrink.
This year, the Liberal provincial government has drastically cut its film tax credit. An industry that had built itself up to a national success story is now in a tailspin. The government has shown a huge lack of awareness of how the arts industry works. Without a competitive tax credit, many TV and film projects that were planning to shoot here have moved on to other parts of the country. The opportunities for casts and crews go with them. People are leaving. They are selling homes, leaving loved ones, sadly having to walk away from a city they helped shape, and a community they love. This ripple affect permeates through all walks of life in Nova Scotia, especially the theatre community.
The “go out west” idea is a continuous debate to anyone in the Atlantic Provinces. Now, it is even more constant. I have a suitcase; I could leave too. Why do I stay here? In an attempt to answer, let me talk about some of the other things I am seeing here.
First, in a response to the tax credit cut Neptune Theatre painted this on their loading doors:
This is an attempt to remind the public that while the arts aren’t necessarily like other industries, it is still an industry.
Second: Neptune’s Studio Series this season features co-productions with other companies in the province: Festival Antigonish, Valley Summer Theatre, and DMV Theatre Collective. This is a great programming strategy. The largest Nova Scotian theatre company gets to showcase local talent, and the regional theatre companies get second mountings of their productions (in DMV’s case, first) for the larger audiences that come with a big urban centre. This is a step in the right direction.
Third, the Atlantic Fringe Festival’s funding turn-around during its 25th anniversary year.
In June, the Halifax City Council cut its grant by 40%. The Fringe, under the festival director Thom Fitzgerald, rallied quickly. An IndieGoGo campaign was launched. Fitzgerald and the Fringe board members reached out to remind the public that it is worth celebrating 25 years of Maritime theatre history. Fitzgerald also kept the pressure on City Council, defending the festival and asking them to reconsider. In a letter to council he wrote:
“Our IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign has raised $2,245 from 34 donors in 3 days. […] Don’t let the public’s generosity dissuade you from using public funds to support the festival; every dollar will be used to further the cultural life of our city.”
On September 8th, Fitzgerald announced that the HRM city council not only restored the Atlantic Fringe Festival’s annual grant, but increased it. The change in policy is due, in large part, to the community rallying together to defend the organization.
Why do I stay? This community is why. This community that struggles, fights, scrapes and scrounges for whatever they can get, in an attempt to reach out, to engage, to tell stories. And I am right here with them. I’m here because I love this adopted theatre community of mine.
I want to build a stronger, more vibrant busy community. I want to engage new audiences and work with my peers. I want to engage in a meaningful dialogue about diversity in theatre – here in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada.
I want to reach out to the rest of the country to remind them that we are here and, every now and again, art happens.