After years of disrespect by theatre management, a world-renowned dance company says it just can’t imagine returning to Calgary’s Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Theatre.
The local organization that brings Shen Yun Performing Arts to Calgary each year has gone public with the situation in hopes something may change.
Presenters of the show say unprofessional and insulting behaviours from theatre management reached new levels this year, though the situation started deteriorating in 2010 when the theatre forced the use of a large net over the orchestra without notifying the company.
The net was not included in the contract and caught performers off guard. The company said none of the more than 100 theatres they have performed in have demanded such an obstructive net, and the orchestra felt it was performing in a cage.
Efforts to discuss the net have been dismissed, including the possibility of signing waivers to remove any legal responsibility from the theatre should a dancer fall into the orchestra pit—the reason the theatre provided for installing the net.
The Jubilee’s director, Katherine Huising, said waivers are not possible due to legal reasons. But two lawyers The Epoch Times spoke with said if Shen Yun’s performers signed waivers, it would remove the theatre’s liability. One lawyer thought that installing the net without warning or mention in the contract may have been in violation of the contract.
New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts has undertaken annual global tours since 2006 and performed in hundreds of theatres, including many of the world’s top stages.
Presenters in Calgary say the company has never before refused to perform in a theatre because of disrespectful treatment from the venue’s management.
A statement from the local presenter, the Falun Dafa Association of Calgary, cited “escalating unprofessionalism, humiliation, and disrespect at the hands of auditorium management” in Calgary.
The statement comes on the heels of this year’s shows in Calgary on April 8 and 9 and disappointment from Shen Yun.
“Never, has any Shen Yun company had this kind of experience,” said Vina Lee, who manages Shen Yun’s Touring Company, one of three Shen Yun companies performing around the world.
Serious Lighting Error
During Shen Yun’s first show in Calgary on April 8, a lighting setup error by theatre staff ruined a key effect in the first act. Shen Yun production staff said it was the most serious technical lapse they had experienced while on tour.
When Lee asked to discuss this and another mistake with the manager responsible, she said he was dismissive.
Jenny Yang, a spokesperson from the local presenter, said, “To be clear, we are not chastising them for just making a mistake, but for their conduct after the mistake was brought to their attention. They didn’t apologize or even seem to take the error seriously.”Normally, said Lee, when Shen Yun comes to a theatre, which is usually rented for tens of thousands of dollars by the hosting organization, the theatre’s management do their best to maintain good relations and help resolve problems to everyone’s satisfaction.
That has not been the case in Calgary, she said.
In another incident, Shen Yun’s female dancers were changing at the end of a performance when a stage worker mistakenly opened a door exposing their changing space while young female dancers were in various stages of undress.
The female performers screamed as several male stage workers saw them. For the young women, who adhere to traditional Chinese values of modesty and being reserved, the incident was mortifying, the presenter said.
“When informed of the incident and the offence it had caused, the response of Jubilee management was not one of concern, but of condescension and laughter. The response demonstrated not only a lack of professionalism, but also profound cultural insensitivity,” the presenter’s statement reads.
With serious errors by the theatre’s production staff sloughed off by management, Lee is uncertain about things improving.
“I don’t feel comfortable in that theatre. If anything occurs, I don’t have anyone supporting me,” she said.
Huising said she would not discuss any of the issues with the media, saying they were between the theatre and the presenters.
The presenters say Huising was copied on a letter sent to Alberta’s Minister of Culture and Community Spirit last week, and that they have regularly been dismissed when raising concerns in recent years.
“I want to stress that this is not a one-off situation, and it’s not something we take lightly. The disrespect and uncooperative behaviour stretches back over the last few years, and our concerns have increasingly fallen on deaf ears,” said Yang.
In 2010, Shen Yun arrived at the Jubilee on the day of their first performance to find the large safety net covering the orchestra. The net had not been present in the previous three years the company had performed at the Jubilee and, organizers say, there was no communication from the venue prior to Shen Yun’s arrival that it had been installed.
Shen Yun told theatre management that the net would interfere with the interaction of the orchestra and performers on stage. Shen Yun also has a segment in each show where they highlight the orchestra for the audience; they said the net would block the audience’s view of the orchestra during this segment.
“Shen Yun is one of very few dance companies that tours with a full live orchestra,” said Lee. She added that the connection and timing between dancers and musicians is critical to the performance.
Huising insisted that the net was a necessary safety feature required in the theatre. Organizers say that among hundreds of theatres where Shen Yun has performed, none have requested such an obstructive orchestra net—including SAJA’s sister theatre the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, which is also overseen by the Alberta government.
Furthermore, they said that Shen Yun are professionals and had performed in the theatre for three years prior without the net.
However, the presenters say Huising refused to remove the net, or even discuss removing it.
“It was very rude,” said Yang. “She wasn’t very respectful to Shen Yun when they said this was a serious concern and basically refused to even talk about it.”
Yang said that after this, the presenting organization sent letters to the Alberta Minister of Culture, which oversees the Jubilee, asking for assistance.
“We hoped they could help us resolve the issue with the net and the disrespectful behaviour from theatre management. However, since that time the attitude towards Shen Yun has only gotten worse at the Jubilee.”
The situation has the local hosts of the performance deeply embarrassed.
“We don’t know what to say, we’ve tried to discuss the problems. It just seems that they fundamentally don’t want us here and we don’t know why,” said Yang.
Yang said the prospect of Shen Yun not returning to Calgary is heartbreaking.
“We feel really really sad and ashamed as Calgarians that we may be losing this world class show,” she said, adding that the show has been warmly welcomed there.
The Falun Dafa association is requesting an apology and for the net to be removed before Shen Yun will return to Calgary.