Are professional and classical touring theatre companies popular in Canada?

Are professional and classical touring theatre companies popular in Canada?

I have often wondered why there are so few professional or classical theatre companies in Canada that tour the continent, especially when you get over the border to the US where it seems they are everywhere. And I'm talking about Broadway-style musicals here, not regional, subsidized offerings which are what's usually available in Canada.

I've always felt that if Canadian audiences really knew what was out there being produced by professional and classical companies on both coasts of the US, they would flock to see them. Yet for some reason these groups don't think of our country as a market. We're just too far away from their cultural centers on the Eastern Seaboard to bother with.

Of course this is all anecdotal information I'm getting from my own experiences in various cities across Canada and the US, but it's based on seeing many, many shows since I was a teenager. I've seen everything from the touring productions of regional theatres like The Guthrie, Steppenwolf and Alley Theatre (Houston) to Broadway-bound shows like Avenue Q; from touring classical theatre companies such as Cirque du Soleil to New York's finest Off-Broadway offerings; plus dozens upon dozens of big orchestras and musicals all over the continent.

I'm lucky enough to be able to afford this life and always make sure that when I travel for business we also take at least one leisure day so we can see a play or show somewhere. It's really important for me that my kids get to experience the best that the arts have to offer.

Still, I'm always surprised that when planning our trips, other than ticket prices I don't hear much talk about what shows are on during our visit. And while it's not uncommon for us to head out to see a play in some far-flung city or town we're visiting, why isn't there more interest amongst Canadians in seeking out these tours? Or is this something that just hasn't occurred to me?

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Humber River Shakespeare is an award-winning theatre company that seeks to enrich the artistic profile of communities along the historic Humber River and beyond. Recognizing that the communities within York Region, Peel, Etobicoke, and Simcoe County are artistically under-served, Humber River Shakespeare seeks to fill that void by touring these areas. By bringing their shows directly into your community they hope to inspire audiences with their unique approach of using local actors in productions designed specifically for each location.

If you think about it, there are very few touring theatre companies of any kind in Canada. Yes, there are professional dance troupes and orchestras who tour here all the time but even fewer classical theatre companies do so. There are those that do, to be sure; the Stratford Festival tours every now and then (and their productions often end up in US cities anyway), as does Theatre Calgary. Even Soulpepper, Canada's finest classical company, only tours every few years with a production.

But for some reason it seems that these kinds of shows don't have much of an audience here - at least not enough to make them profitable - so they cut back on their touring schedules. And why is this? Seems there should always be a market for well-produced theatre whatever the venue, right? The same holds true for opera companies which seem to take Montreal Opera or Toronto Operetta Works into smaller Canadian towns all the time but I never hear people talking about seeing them. I see them regularly, often more than once (and in fact am seeing Opera Mississauga this weekend), but apparently they're not reaching audiences like you might expect - at least so these companies seem to think.

Why is it that people sell out large venues for touring rock shows and other forms of entertainment but won't go the distance to see quality theatre? And if they do, why aren't they talking about it afterwards? The whole thing seems rather odd to me because I find the best artistic experiences are usually when seeing professional or classical theatre on tour across Canada or abroad. Yet people just don't seem to get into it that much. I'm not sure what to make of all ther.