Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

‘Shockingly low’ attendance: Buddies in Bad Times Theatre really is in bad times

Arigato, Tokyo (by Jeremy Mimnagh) Buddies In Bad Times Theatre

Jeremy Mimnagh

"Shockingly low" attendance at the premiere production of a drama by award-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor has left Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times Theatre "scratching [its collective] head and asking some very serious questions" against the backdrop of an overall decline in visitors to Toronto's performing arts presenters since 2005-06.

"We're not happy," said Buddies artistic director Brendan Healy Thursday of attendance at MacIvor's Arigato, Tokyo, which concludes a month-long run April 14. Healy, who issued an open letter online Thursday expressing his concerns, wouldn't reveal precise ticket sales to date. Nevertheless, "filling a 120-seat house like ours with a Daniel MacIvor play that has great reviews shouldn't be that hard," he said. "I'm not angry about it, I'm not angry at audiences. I just think everyone here at the company wants to understand, to get some feedback around 'why.'" To that end, as part of a 10-year strategic plan, the company has prepared a 20-question online survey "to get to know [its audience] better."

Healy's actions come less than a month after he attended a meeting to which the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts invited the artistic directors of some 185 professional theatre, dance and opera companies "to discuss the current climate . . . the current challenges."

Story continues below advertisement

Details of the March 11 meeting are confidential. Nevertheless, it's likely attendance was discussed as TAPA, established in 1979, has been gathering statistics for almost 10 years with respect to Toronto performing arts. In a brief interview Thursday, TAPA executive director Jacoba Knaapen noted that between 2005-06 and 2009-10, ticket sales to professional theatre, dance and opera performances declined by eight per cent, going to 2.3-million tickets purchased from 2.5-million.

"That's not a sharp sort of jump-off-the-cliff decline but a slow decline . . . a marked decline," she said. At the same, performing arts do appear to be attracting younger audiences. In 2004, 2,400 high-school groups attended performances; in 2009-10, that more than tripled, to 8,700 high-school groups. "There is some good news in there . . . [since] the perception is that theatre audiences are white and aging."

Knaapen said the decline is hardly a secret and "not unique to Toronto. We see this kind of audience challenge right across North America." Meanwhile, to help better understand local audiences and "what motivates attendance," TAPA has developed its own survey that is going out to its member organizations next week whereupon they'll circulate it among "their audience base."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

James More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at