Comment: Mac Playhouse has earned its place in Victoria

The McPherson Playhouse celebrates its centennial in 2014 and has been a consistently busy venue since the city received the theatre as part of a significant bequest from Thomas Shanks McPherson in 1965.

The playhouse serves more than 50,000 patrons yearly, and careful management by its not-for-profit board — the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society — has ensured that the building has been maintained and upgraded appropriately; a few examples include new seats, a new roof and a soon-to-be-installed air-conditioning system.

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The expectations of 21st-century productions have been met by upgrading the theatre’s technical equipment. The city provides $400,000 annually to accommodate ongoing maintenance and infrastructure improvements.

The city provides a $350,000 annual operating subsidy to the Capital Regional District; the CRD controls the flow of those funds to the theatre society. The Mac has had no civic funding increase in 14 years, and with the value of the grant shrinking over time, the society manages the Mac more and more based on the theatre’s own earnings.

The Mac is a successful theatre, operated well within the accepted financial standards applied to any other theatre of its size in British Columbia. Patrons from every community in the CRD, and beyond, attend on a regular basis. The question of shared expenses within the CRD is a complicated and important issue that is more appropriately addressed by elected officials.

A theatre is no different from any other public facility — pools, arenas, recreation centres, libraries — that is subsidized by the public and celebrated for the way in which they enrich our community.

From the time of McPherson’s bequest in 1965 until the year 2000, the playhouse was one of the busiest theatres in Canada. At this point, local cultural groups that had developed their audience at the McPherson were able to move to the larger venue provided by the Royal Theatre.

Recognizing shifts in demographics and the impact of the global economic collapse, the board and staff of the society have looked for innovative opportunities to ensure that the McPherson remains at the heart of the city’s cultural activities.

In the spring of 2014, we will be celebrating the 100th birthday of the theatre and the role it has played in showcasing the riches of our cultural community, and we hope to be joined by the many generations of residents whose lives have been enriched by the productions that have taken place at the theatre.


Mike Wagnell is board president of the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society. Lloyd Fitzsimonds is executive director of the society.

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