Arts 101: Theater company vs. theater building

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Theatre de la Jeune Lune had its own theater, and rented it out to other theaters to perform in. Now two of the performers from Jeune Lune (Steve Epp and Dominique Serrand, shown above) are starting a new theater company, and are performing in other people’s theaters. Confused? Read on…

I was trawling through Facebook the other day when I stumbled across a thread that caught my eye. A couple of theater professionals were bemoaning the confusion that often arises when a small theater company performs in somebody else’s building.

For example, the Guthrie Theater is a professional company with a national reputation for its work. But the building it works out of has three stages, and it often allows other, smaller companies to perform in its space. So a theater-goer who’s not paying attention might see a show that was put on by Penumbra, or Theater Mu, or Frank Theater, and come away thinking they had just seen a “Guthrie production.”

At the least it means the performing company doesn’t get word-of-mouth credit for its work, and loses some potential marketing. But sometimes it can mean the wrong theater company gets a donation at the end of the year. Christopher Kidder, the director of the annual “Klingon Christmas Carol,” said he knows of at least one person who gave $100 to Mixed Blood Theatre Company by accident, after having seen his production there.

While the confusion between a theater company and a theater building can frustrate some professionals, others have been known to use it to their advantage. Kidder (and others on his Facebook thread) had heard of at least a couple of instances in which an actor claimed “I’ve got the lead in a Guthrie play!” In truth, they are performing in a much smaller theater company’s production – it just happens to be on a Guthrie stage.

So what to do? The root of the problem is that both the buildings and the companies are called “theaters,” and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The best that anyone can ask for is that audience members take a moment to make sure they know the name of the theater company they’re seeing, not just the name of the building they’re in.

(And if a friend tells you they got the lead in a Guthrie play, you might want to do some fact-checking… )

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