Truth be told, we never loved you…

The Charlottetown Festival announced yesterday that it’s cutting the size of its orchestra from 19 to 13. My friend Dale eloquently dicusses all of this from the point of view of a musician in the pit, and I highly recommend that you read his post.

I’m no great fan of Anne of Green Gables — The Musical — I am a victim, alas, of being part of the chorus for a staging of the musical when I was in grade 3, and so I have a strong involuntary flight response whenever I hear the stirring refrain “Anne of Green Gables, never change.”

But I’m the father of a die-hard fan — Oliver has seen the musical every summer for as long as I can remember — and as much as it pains me that Anne is the primary artistic output of “Canada’s National Memorial to the Fathers of Confederation,” I recognize the centrality of the musical to the cultural and economic life of the city and the province, and so, despite my artistic misgivings, I am forced to admit that, net-net, it’s a good thing.

I also have a lot of friends who are employed, directly or indirectly, by the musical’s annual staging: technicians, stage crew, carpenters, designers. And musicians. Indeed if you you want make a living as a professional musician on Prince Edward Island, the Festival’s pit is about your only option; and the contribution of those so-employed to the musical life of the province is inestimable.

So when the Charlottetown Festival cuts 6 positions from its orchestra, I pay attention: I’m concerned for friends, concerned for the musical itself, and concerned for what the unanticipated side-effects of such a cut will be for the Island.

What really bothers me about the announcement of this cut is the way that it was spun by the Confederation Centre administration: CEO Jessie Inman was quoted by the CBC saying:

I think the magical theatre experience that we have offered to our patrons of Anne — The Musical for so many years will be maintained. The integrity of that score will be maintained, and I don’t believe that our patrons will have any lesser experience,” she said.

Which I read as “we never really needed those 6 other musicians anyway, and nobody will notice they’re not there.” Setting aside whether this is true or not, this shows tremendous disrespect to the players whose positions will be cut: if there will be no “lesser experience,” then, presumably, they were just dross taking up space in the pit.

It’s fine to spin the “magical theatre experience” bullshit to bus tour companies, but this kind of talk has no place when addressing so serious a cut to an Island audience: these musicians are our friends, our neighbours, our music teachers, the parents of our kids’ friends, the people we see on the street every day. Whether or not economic realities of the Centre’s operation require this cut, Ms. Inman owes all of the musicians employed by the Charlottetown Festival an apology for her callous disregard to the role they have played in the success of the musical and in their importance to the Island community.


Alida Love's picture
Alida Love on December 20, 2011 - 17:10 Permalink

I completey agree with your comment — 100% — and I also agree that I take offence to the “spin” and the “wording of the announcement.”


Natalie Williams Calhoun's picture
Natalie William... on December 20, 2011 - 18:22 Permalink

Agreed wholeheartedly. As one of the professional musicians living on PEI who just last year broke into the pit to play a few shows of Anne, I know how hard it is to make a living as a musician here. Really hoping this decision can be changed but realistically not believing it can now. 

Wayne Collins's picture
Wayne Collins on December 20, 2011 - 19:02 Permalink

Sadly, the Confed Center spin-doctoring seems to have won the day. When I last looked (just moments ago) there was not one comment on the story carried on CBC&#39s website and even more disappointing was my fruitless search for the story on the Guardian website. I suspect if several call-center jobs had been axed, there would have been more coverage and reader response. Overall, I feel your comments were right on the mark. These professional musicians and those who have applauded their marvelous talents over the years deserve an honest straight-forward explanation from Confed Center management and a full acknowledgement that their now-silenced instruments will be missed not only in the Main Stage Theatre but throughout our Island community.

Sandy's picture
Sandy on December 20, 2011 - 19:17 Permalink

Wayne, while there are no comments on the CBC page there is a flurry of activity on facebook and I know that CBC TV is doing a story on this for Compass this evening. The musicians were blind sided with this announcement, but they are not going to let it go unnoticed.

David A. Woolsey's picture
David A. Woolsey on December 21, 2011 - 02:52 Permalink

It has become a great tragedy in our time that the most valuable things in the arts are sacrificed to the least. the decision to leave out part of a musical score in theatre by callous administrators is rampant. I hope to live to see a time when arts administrators are willing to relinquish part of their six-figure salaries to maintain a high level in their fields. As a professional performer since 1968, it’s quite obvious that ANY loss of standards degrades the performance! I bought land in eastern PEI at least partly because of the rich and VARIED musical life it offered. Good luck to you all, Dave

LC's picture
LC on December 21, 2011 - 19:56 Permalink

I think that the Confederation Centre has continually been compromising its original role in bringing to life original Canadian Theater -when it announced the 2012 line up it emphasized the fact that it was using Canadian talent for its musical theatre and then when it announced the gutting of the Centre’s Orchestra shortly after that found that their pronouncements regarding artistic integrity ring hollow — I thought Dale very eloquently spoke of the impact that would have on the quality of the stage production and I am also saddened by the impact it has on the quality of the orchestra and the contribution these orchestral members make in the cultural life of Prince Edward Island. I think with the passing of Norman and Elaine Campbell who valued the musical contribution of the orchestra has been downgraded as part of a budget cutting exercise. The arts are being attacked through successive cuts to government funding to the arts as well as the economic downturn which has limited many people’s income to support such theatre and lessened tourism to PEI as well. The original vision and mandate of the Confederation Center as it was founded in 1964 is one which we should try to recapture by its 50th anniversary in 2014.