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Theatre groups face flawed booking systems and steep prices to perform

McGill’s theatre groups are sick of jumping through hoops to secure space for rehearsals and performances.

This autumn, McGill’s theatre community started their own advocacy group, Student Theatre Artists, Groups and Executives (mcgillSTAGE), to increase theatrical publicity, outreach, and develop a support system for members fighting for space.

At their first meet-and-greet of the year last Wednesday, many theatre groups expressed concerns about booking rehearsal and performance rooms.

Claire Hughes of V-Day McGill, a club that raises money to fight gender-based violence and that performs the Vagina Monologues every February, said many groups are vying for rooms because students wind up last on McGill’s list of priorities.

“McGill administration gets first choice of rooms and we get whatever scraps remain,” she said.

McGill’s charges between $800 and $1,400 to stage four-night runs in Leacock 132, plus extra for the tables and chairs needed to sell tickets and baked goods.

“We give all our proceeds to charity, so it’s a shame to spend several thousand dollars every year on room booking and have to make it up by having samosa sales,” Hughes said.

McGill doesn’t have enough funding to cover the costs of extended hours of building use, noted Debbie Yacoulis, McGill Events Administrator, in an email to The Daily.

“Anyone wishing to use the University facilities outside the normal timetable must assume the cost,” she wrote.

Rental rates cover the costs of operating the ventilation systems, security, cleaning, and insurance and permits, according to Yacoulis.

English Professor Myrna Wyatt Selkirk, academic advisor to the Tuesday Night Café Theatre and the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society, said booking rooms this year has been particularly challenging.

“Blanket bookings, where people book rooms for a large number of dates so they will be available if they need them, takes up a lot of time,” she said.

Selkirk added that as McGill hires new professors and transforms classrooms into offices, less and less space is available for theatre purposes.

“The University needs more space desperately. I understand that they’re not doing this willfully,” she said.

The events booking system is an equally contentious issue. For security reasons, the system can only be accessed from McGill IP addresses. While Yacoulis promised that McGill is working to expand the system so it can be used from any location, Hughes said the present system is still problematic for groups. Students have to use the computers in the Ancillary Services Office because it’s difficult to access the room booking systems from other computers at McGill, according to Hughes.

James Iarocci, Vice President of the McGill Savoy Society, added that McGill’s system does not allow for last-minute bookings. Groups must request rooms in February for the fall semester – almost six months in advance.

As a result of these difficulties, theatre groups are starting to turn to alternative rehearsal spaces.

The Savoy Society has been rehearsing at a room in the McGill Neurological Institute, which they booked through the Society’s former president who is now employed there. The Players’ Theatre – Quebec’s oldest English-speaking theatre– has also found its own space in a theatre on the third floor of SSMU.

“[SSMU has] been very understanding of our needs,” said Stephanie Shum, Executive Director of Players’ Theatre. She noted the limited presence of the fine arts at McGill in spite of their importance.

“We’re a small community, but we’re so vibrant.”