Factory Theatre drops curtain on layoffs, union drive


Factory Theatre is offering no comment on why half its 12 full-time staff, including technicians involved in a recent union drive, received layoff notices last month.

On February 3, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) posted a press release on its site proclaiming “Factory Theatre – Now Manufacturing Union Jobs!”

It states that Factory’s stage technicians had unanimously voted to join IATSE Local 58. “This is a great result for the employees, who are looking forward to working under their first collective bargaining agreement.”

Two days later, those technicians, along with “about half,” according to IATSE, of Factory’s 12 full-time staff, were called into separate meetings and given layoff notices of between two and 10 weeks. 

An internal memo to all staff from artistic director Nina Lee Aquino reads in part: “Factory Theatre is not closing. The company is restructuring its staffing model to meet our current needs and position us for long term success. These were tough but necessary decisions, and we are supporting staff as they manage this transition. We remain committed to completing the current season with no disruption to our artists and audiences, and are looking forward to announcing our 2016/17 season in the coming months.”

It’s unclear if the timing of the layoffs had anything to do with the IATSE announcement. Factory staff had known for a while that some layoffs were coming. 

Says one staffer, “When rumblings of layoffs began… everyone assumed that the production department would be safe. Oh, how wrong we all were!”

In a phone call on February 19, Factory’s business manager, Hannah Mestel, told me, “There’s really nothing to say at this point.” 

Asked if there were any staffing changes forthcoming, Mestel said, “We’re trying to make Factory grow and be successful, and we’re looking at business models that ensure that happens. We need to have a more flexible model in place.” 

Pressed on how many layoffs may be in store, she replied, “All our staff are here on a full-time basis. It’s status quo.” But I later confirm that at least one employee’s last day was on the same day I spoke with Mestel.

A representative of Local 58 described the upcoming negotiations with the theatre as “delicate.”

“Our first priority is to ensure our members retain their jobs,” says the rep, emphasizing that IATSE expects their new members will be working at Factory at least until the end of the theatre’s current season.

Factory’s recent history has been tumultuous. In 2012, its board of directors let go long-time artistic director Ken Gass over renovations to the aging heritage building at the corner of Bathurst and Adelaide. The resulting public relations battle was messy, leading to a boycott that decimated ticket sales from 12,504 for the 2011-2012 season, to just 2,901 in 2013-2014. 

Aquino, who was appointed as interim co-artistic director at the end of 2012, was confirmed as Factory’s artistic director in 2014. 

A recent profile of her in the Globe and Mail focused on Factory’s success with programming diverse artists, and said that Factory’s finances were on the rebound. Its 2015 production of Banana Boys, for example, sold more than 3,000 tickets in November alone, and recent critical hit Salt Water Moon has sold out its run.

The board members Gass publicly named as instrumental in his dismissal have all moved on. 

Aquino was unavailable to comment on any aspect of this story, but Factory publicist Ashley Belmer did address several developments, including the IATSE announcement, in an email. 

“We have not yet begun negotiations, and ratified contracts won’t take effect, at the earliest, until the fall,” she writes.

“While there are changes underfoot, none of these changes will affect the current season,” Belmer continues. “There will be news to share when we announce the 2016/17 season, and [Aquino] will answer all your questions then.” 

Steve Fisher is an arts and entertainment critic based in Toronto​.

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