Theatre company could be in trouble

In a city where French is dominant, running an English-language theatre company can be difficult. Mathieu Perron should know. He is one of the founders of Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, a six-year-old company that has been running into financial roadblocks.

Tableau D’Hôte was started in 2005, when Perron and co-founder Mike Payette were in their first year in Concordia’s theatre program. Their first show only ran for two nights and cost $500, an amount they doubled during its run. “Before you know it, there were a lot of members of the professional community who wanted to work with us, had faith in the company and started proposing things to us, so the company grew very fast,” said Perron. Now, Tableau D’Hôte’s shows cost anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000.

Throughout the six years of its existence, Tableau D’Hôte has been sustained by investments from Perron and Payette’s own pockets. “We calculate that over the past six years, we’ve at least invested close to $100,000 to $110,000 from our personal funds into our company,” shared Perron. “This entire time, something that I don’t think people have been very cognizant of is that the company is entirely self-financed.”

The company lost $19,000 on their last show in November, Dark Owl, a “vintage Acadian bilingual play” at the MainLine Theatre. However, failure to draw a crowd won’t cause Tableau D’Hôte to change its mandate, which is to produce original Canadian content never performed in Montreal. “Maybe we could try to get the C.S.I. crowd to come see the shows but that’s not our mandate,” remarked Perron.

Perron is surprised by the media attention Tableau D’Hôte has been getting because many other established companies are dealing with similar situations where they are denied grants from the Canada Council. Perron said he thinks the stinginess of grants are the main reason English theatre is faltering.

In addition to the lack of funding and grants, English theatre in Montreal is hindered by being in a minority language. “In the same way that French companies in Toronto have it pretty rough, English companies in Montreal do too,” he said. “We’re playing to a much smaller public.”

Perron could just bump up ticket prices, but that’s not a road he’s willing to take. He envisions a system where theatre-goers pay as much money as they are able to. “Nobody should not be allowed to see it because they don’t have the money,” he said. Even then, ticket sales only cover up to 30 or 40 per cent of operating costs. “So what do you do? Produce less? Produce once every couple of years instead of multiple shows a year?”

Tableau D’Hôte has been turning towards different strategies to raise money, including setting up campaigns on fundraising website Indiegogo. Their last campaign surpassed their goal of $3,000 by $270. Much to Perron’s surprise, donations were made by members of Montreal’s arts community such as Roy Surette, artistic director of the Centaur Theatre and Jeremy Hechtman, artistic director at MainLine. “Because we’ve been so open to collaborations with other artists, other artists have been in turn very open to promoting us and supporting us and fighting for us as the little theatre that can,” said Perron.

However, Perron considers himself lucky that Tableau D’Hôte has made it this far. “Usually companies have a shelf life of two years, and then they’re done,” he explained. The longest-running English theatre companies in Montreal include Persephone Theatre, which has lasted 10 years, and the MainLine theatre with five.

Although Payette has been successful on his own in theatre and Perron has found another job away from the arts community, Perron hopes the company won’t be forced to take a year off. “The best way to keep going is to keep going,” he said.

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