The unnecessary necessities: an art bus?

We have one theatre in Waterloo Region that suits a mid-size audience, and has all the proper accoutrements of a dedicated theatre space.

The Conrad Centre for Performing Arts is an ideal space for building and mounting productions. It has excellent rigging for lighting, nice acoustics, flexible seating, a good back stage, green rooms… and costs $6000-8500 per week. For this, let’s use the lower range. Say we don’t want box office, or tech or any other services… so $6,500.

Conrad Centre for Performing Arts

Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts

Think of it this way: in a week, you get three days for performance. The rest of the time is rehearsing in the space – Thursday to Saturday are the show days.

Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto is a beautiful space – with many of the perks of the Conrad. It is also a performance space and has the benefit of being a place where people will just go to see theatre. There is the possibility of people dropping in for a piece – audience development is instituted. People go there (and to other small Toronto houses like the Factory, or Tarragon – comparable in price) just because they know good art will be there. This could never happen at the Conrad. It is a very private space with no public reputation for housing anything other than the occasional symphony concert. People won’t go to downtown Kitchener to the Conrad just to see what’s going on. Toronto sells based on consistent and exciting variety.

Most important, the Passe Muraille non-profit rental rate is $3900 per week. But that price, according to their website, includes:

“Full bar. Dressing and green rooms. Basic rental rates include technician, full lighting and sound equipment, bar staff, front of house staff* and box office services.”

Whoa. Everything including a kitchen sink! So not really a fair comparison, but I don’t have the itemized list for every additional service cost at the Conrad. Just based on these prices, I have a feeling about that $8,500 tag. Back to it – we will give them the benefit of the low-ball.

Ok… so let’s take a look at this.

6500 – 3900 = 2600

Wow. $2600 dollar difference. I don’t need a business degree to see a deal! But there’s a not insignificant problem here: How can we make Toronto accessible for our loyal Waterloo Region audience?

Art bus

A bus for each night of the performance!


A charter school bus costs $610 per day. So let’s say you rent a charter bus every day to bring 52 audience members from Kitchener to Toronto.

610 x 3 = 1830

So we bring 52 people to Toronto on our budget for the 3 performance days.

52 x 3 = 156

Certainly our production is good otherwise it wouldn’t be made at all – so we rely on Toronto to fill the other 100 or so seats each day.

Let’s take that difference in cost and subtract the cost of our bus because this is looking promising.

2600 – 1830 = 770

We still have $770 left over before our Conrad Centre cost is covered. So let’s rent 2 buses on the Saturday so we can give the Waterloo Region audience a better chance at seeing the inside of an actual centre for performing arts.

52 x 4 = 208

Let’s say that none of the Waterloo Region bus people are receiving comps. Let’s say all of them are paying $25 for this show – pretty reasonable.

25 x 52 = 1300

Each bus pays for itself. $1300 of audience in each bus. Maybe we should drop that second Saturday night bus.

I suppose if business acumen was important to the arts, those who have even a little can see how this is all a very bad deal whether or not we send a second bus on a Saturday.

This is positively ridiculous when one considers how we are the home of an innovative and outstanding genre in theatre – an unusual process, a specific style, and a unique identity created here.

A stark reality is that we don’t need the bus from Waterloo Region at all. Our highly successful theatre companies have no problems with full houses in Theatre Passe Muraille. Again: artists come HERE because of greatness they see in our companies. There is that combination of things that make for innovation, and it started here long before the tech sector boom. Waterloo Region is a special place, and one that many artists have chosen as their home.

We shouldn’t have to rent buses to Toronto to give Waterloo Region audiences a chance to see performing arts, and not bust our own bank accounts.

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