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Interview: Paul Flicker, Segal Centre Artistic Producer
An Artistic Producer on Producing Art
by David Sklar
(photos by Paul Ducharme)
CHARPO: Why do you have the title of Artistic Producer and not Artistic Director of the Segal Theatre?
FLICKER: There are a few reasons why I wanted that. One is, I am not a director of plays. I also wanted to establish a distinction between my predecessor who had been so well known in her job here. But because of that, there are now two parts to my job. First is the overall artistic direction of the theatres and then producing the other activities that take place here such as our dance, music and special events. So while I feel I have a more territorial role with the direction of the theatres, the actual producing role takes equal importance.
CHARPO: So run me through a typical day at the theatre.
FLICKER : Well, the great thing is, there is no typical day here. There are weekly occurrences such as production, sales and marketing and manager meetings. But most days are completely different. I am rarely at my desk. Almost never. And notoriously difficult to reach. So if people need to get in touch with me for productions, they call my assistant.
We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars a year but our programming has actually increased.
CHARPO: So what are the differences between Bryna Wasserman (former Artistic Director of the Segal) and yourself?
FLICKER: Bryna’s job had evolved over the years since I have been here. First she was Artistic Director of the Yiddish Theatre, then she became Artistic and Executive Director and then back to Artistic Director. I think Bryna had more to do with running the Board and was a lot more involved with every financial aspect of the organization. We are in a very fortunate position to have Manon Gauthier as our CEO. I don’t think there are many CEO’s who are so supportive of the programming and the arts in general. Since she has been here, we have gone through “compression budgets” for saving money but there have been no cuts to the programming; it’s all been cuts to administration and facilities. We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars a year but our programming has actually increased. I still have to look at budgets and resources since it affects what we can do but having someone whose job it is to oversee that exclusively, is fantastic. Last year I walked by the rehearsal hall and the development team was bunkered down finding strategies for how to fundraise and had Bryna been here, she would have been right in the thick of it and I thought “thank god” that I could focus on my work.
CHARPO: What have you been most proud of since officially taking over in March 2010?
FLICKER: Well, even though I am in charge of this upcoming season, I look back on a few highlights. I think of our very strong production of Equus. I was really proud to have SideMart on the main stage and be able to revive a Canadian classical that doesn’t often get performed. Actually…there are things in every production that I loved. We’ve done an English/French co-production with Rideau Vert. Same Time, Next Year with R.H. Thompson was just charming. It’s great when we get them the first time, but when they come back, it shows that they enjoy working here and that adds a special thing to it. The music series went really well. Women of the World was packed last year. We do 430 events a year. Each one has something that I take pride in.
CHARPO: Are the co-pros with Rideau Vert something you want to expand upon?
FLICKER Short answer. Yes. But each co-production has to make sense. It has to benefit both theatres. It’s not something we can artificially create. So, maybe not for next season but the season afterwards, we have been in talks. I’m not going to say what it is but they take a little more planning. I love having French companies perform in our studio. We aren’t trying to become a French theatre but it does two things: It exposes us to a whole new group of artists and exposes Francophones, who would not normally come here, to the Segal Theatre. It’s a win-win.
In our main theatre, the audiences tend to be older but in our studio, they are on average 20 years younger.
CHARPO: You bring up an interesting point. You are trying to attract new audiences. Most of the Segal clientele is old….
FLICKER Well, it depends what your definition of old is. In our main theatre, the audiences tend to be older but in our studio, they are on average 20 years younger. As part of our strategy, the upcoming season was designed to encourage a younger audience. But you can’t alienate your older patrons. They’re your bread and butter and it’s fantastic that they do come out but it’s finding that right balance to welcome new people too. For example, Sherlock Holmes. I think that will appeal to our traditional audience but given that Jay Baruchel is in it and Andrew Shaver is directing, I think that will bring in the younger crowds. And a new Yiddish show by So-Called (Josh Dolgin) has the potential to do the same. But there are a lot of stakes involved when putting together a season. It’s not just thinking what six plays I would like to see... You also have to consider grant proposals and their current criteria. But I’m very happy with the results so far.
CHARPO: Have you found there had been any changes to your funding with the current levels of government?
FLICKER : Well, I find that the Segal Center is really underfunded by all three levels of government. Especially when you compare it to its sister institutions: The Centaur or the Rideau Vert. We get about six percent of our total operating budget from the three levels of government combined. For example, from the Canada Council, I believe we receive 40,000 a year for operating costs while the Centaur gets about 286,000.
It’s hard when year after year you are getting a million dollars less than your competitor.
CHARPO: Why is that?
FLICKER: You have to ask the Canada Council. Provincially from CALC (Conseil des arts et des letters du Quebec), we get 100,000 a year, Centaur gets around 475,000. That financially is our biggest challenge. It’s hard when year after year you are getting a million dollars less than your competitor. But across Canada, we have all been pleasantly surprised that the Conservative government has not brought in more cuts to the Canada Council. I think the Prime Minister has been pretty moderate. But talk to someone in the T.V. industry and they will have a different attitude.
And it’s true that across Canada ticket sales have been down. Stratford and Shaw, the Toronto staple theatres and even our French friends have all seen declines in attendance. Even our over-the-counter ticket sales last year were down but we budget income very conservatively, so we weren’t horribly hit. I get upset when we don’t have full houses but I feel there is more of a buzz for this season. I know we are up on subscribers in terms of where we were last year and now we are growing somewhere between five and 10 percent this year, which in this climate is great.
CHARPO: But how do you convince someone, especially a younger person, who is not involved in theatre, who doesn’t have family or friends in the show, to spend a night out, rather than say, watching a movie at home?
FLICKER: Well, forget the argument that you can see a play here for $14 as a student. When I was growing up, I saw way more films that theatre. But these last few years, I find film a pale imitation. Without the live human aspect of it, it really bores me. Maybe it’s just the times we’re in but I find film so flat and dead. You don’t always get a great play and you can walk out and say, “Jeez, I shouldn’t have seen that one”. But I don’t think a great film comes close to a great play. That to me is the selling point of theatre.
Look, we are never going to have the budgets to do massive advertising runs like Wicked. We have to be more creative than that. This year, we are doing more traditional, less web-based postering. Bringing in people they want to see on stage like for Sherlock. Already we are selling very well for that show. You will see lots of young faces.
You’ll see their costumes on our stage, our flats on their stage.
CHARPO: You mentioned your competitor, The Centaur…
FLICKER: Our friendly competitor.
CHARPO: What is the relationship between your theatres?
FLICKER: There are two levels. The production level where our theatres are helping each other all the time. I think we have the best technical team in the country. You’ll see their costumes on our stage, our flats on their stage. I think Roy is a really great guy, I get along with him. I don’t take any joy in them having a bad show because when you go see a bad play, it doesn’t make you want to see more theatre and that hurts us. And Vice-Versa.
CHARPO: You mentioned some things about the future. Anything else you are willing to share?
FLICKER: Yes. I will make one little tid-bit exclusively for CharPo. Play number three next year, we are going to be welcoming back Peter Hinton to direct…a play. I will not say what it is because odds are it might change and I’ll look like an idiot.
One thing I want to say to all of your readers, is “let me know what you think of the shows. Send me e-mails. Send me letters. Tell me if you love it or hate it. I want to get that dialogue going.”
CHARPO: Anything Bryna might have said as she passed on the torch to you?
FLICKER: Yes. She said, “Every day come in through a different door”.
Segal Centre website.
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