Lights… Orchestra… Curtains: Bring on the Best of World-Class Live Theatre!
Aubrey Dan
Media Type
Item Type
The speaker’s response to the oft-asked question “Why did you get into the theatre business?” Getting the theatre bug. Co-productions with Canstage. Founding “Dancap Productions.” Technology and society – social contact. The importance of the live theatre. Some history and background to theatre in Toronto. Competition in Toronto. The effect of SARS. The Toronto Centre for the Arts. The speaker’s vision for a better, more exciting future. The joy of sharing live theatre together. The speaker’s loss of the Canon and Panasonic theatres. Other business ventures. The speaker’s love of “show business.” Impact on the economy, lives, and spiritual growth of live theatre.
Date of Original
June 4 2009
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text

June 4, 2009

Aubrey Dan

President, Dancap Productions Inc.

Lights… Orchestra… Curtains: Bring on the best of world-class live theatre!

Chairman: Jo-Ann McArthur, President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Elias Toby: CEO and Chief Financial Officer, Dancap Group

Verity Craig: Managing Director, CV Management, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada

Reverend Robert J. Payton: Honorary Assistant, Christ Church, Brampton

David Besharat: Grade 12 Student, Earl Haig Collegiate Institute

Peter Lamb: Producer and Executive Vice-President, Dancap Productions Inc.

Gareth S. Seltzer: President, TWS Private Management, and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.

Introduction by Jo-Ann McArthur

Aubrey Dan grew up with pharmaceuticals in his blood, with Novopharm being the family business. He has discovered a new drug and that’s theatre. And if you need a mood enhancer, I recommend “Jersey Boys.” I defy anyone to leave that performance not feeling uplifted! He invests funds throughout Canada and the world with Dancap Private Equity and Dancap Global Asset Management. Luckily for us he also saw a need to invest in theatre in Toronto. What started as a hobby has quickly become a passion. Filling a void in the market with the fall of Livent he has been able to tap and leverage the deep talent pool in Toronto.

His background in pharmaceuticals has also given him a unique window into product development. In his words, “Show business is like the pharmaceutical business. You have a pipeline of inventory, blockbusters, oldies but goldies and new molecules that create excitement.” He also has a keen sense of marketing and branding. Many of you who attended a Leafs game heard “Big Girls Don’t Cry” play when an opposing team’s player goes to the penalty box while an ad promoting “Jersey Boys” plays on the video-board. That’s taking your message to a nontraditional community and creatively connecting.

His philosophy is that the more money he makes, the more money he is able to give away and he certainly walks that talk. He and his wife Marla have donated millions of dollars to health and education charities. And I should note that their first date was at a CanStage theatre production. A fortunate courtship for all of us! I am pleased to now turn the podium over to Aubrey, but first I’d like to ask him to make the draw for two tickets to “Jersey Boys,” courtesy of our friends at DanCap Productions.

Aubrey Dan

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, my name is Aubrey Dan and it gives me great pleasure to be here with you today. I am honoured to have the opportunity to address this great Canadian institution with such an illustrious history dating back to 1903.

The title for my talk should give you a fairly clear idea of what I hope to discuss—Lights… Orchestra… Curtains: Bring on the best of world-class live theatre! The most frequent question that I am asked by the media, friends—and the media are not always my friends, I assure you—and just regular people whom I meet is: “Why did you get into the theatre business?”

To be honest, I never planned to be in the theatre business. I did not grow up in the theatre business. Nor can I act. And I certainly cannot sing: ask my wife Marla! The last time I sang was at my wedding almost 20 years ago. It was “My Girl” and after my performance, she whispered to me, “Aubrey I love you, but please don’t sing anymore, especially in public!” Is that the sort of thing any bride should tell her groom on their wedding day?

True, I signed up for a drama class in grade seven, but I was never in any school plays, nor did I even attend them, which is shameless in retrospect.

My exposure to theatre was first established when I visited my New York cousins, and they took me to see a Broadway show, maybe once a year. One of the first musicals I saw was “Hair” during the mid-’70s, which had nudity in it, which certainly made it all worthwhile for a young boy. Back then the box office wouldn’t even sell me a ticket to see the production of “A Chorus Line” as I was 13 years old. It was only in my mid-twenties that I started to attend musicals and plays on a regular basis, back in the 1980s and early ’90s. Even then, I was merely a regular theatre-goer, and that is all I was! There were no hints of any future producing glory at all.

It was in 2002, less than a decade ago, that I was approached by a business associate of mine who was a board member of Canstage. I was asked if I would like to “identify sponsors” for one of their plays. I was later requested by Marty Bragg, the managing director of that non-profit theatre company, to be a sponsor for their new play development program for $25,000, which I agreed to do. Later in our discussion, I asked him one question that would soon change my life. “Why isn’t there more Broadway theatre available in Toronto?” It was that single query which led me to the conclusion that there was a vacuum created with the demise of Livent, and there was a theatre monopoly in our city, which could be challenged and turned into a business opportunity.

Shortly thereafter, I co-produced with Canstage three productions: “Urinetown,” “Ain’t Misbehaving,” and “Hair.” During my first show, I got the theatre bug. I was very happy to produce theatre as a hobby, but there soon came a moment when the entrepreneur in me became aware of a troubling fact: the “not-for-profit” and the “profit” business models of theatre production would never make a very good marriage. They might break even, at best, but would never make any serious amount of money.

Having already created two very successful “investment companies”—Dancap Private Equity and Dancap Global Asset Management, which invest money into promising young businesses—I decided to found “Dancap Productions,” to take on Mirvish Productions and bring in a half-dozen quality shows to Toronto in my first year alone. I was determined to change the cultural landscape of our beloved city, and, as soon as I possibly could, the cultural landscape of this great country of mine as well. No, I did not wish to do this as “the son of Garth” or “the second coming of Livent.” I am doing this as someone who loves live theatre, loves the city in which I was born, raised, and lived most of my non-academic life, and feels that there is an extraordinary magic in “live theatre” which can never be found in a popcorn-strewn, sticky-floored movie theatre, and certainly not on the one-inch screens of mobile phones or BlackBerrys.

How many of you occasionally stop and scratch your head over the rather astonishing fact that we human beings have never been more connected in human history, thanks to modern technology—with our cell phones, our computers, our hand-held electronic devices—yet somehow, strangely, appear to be lonelier than ever? We all hunger for human, social contact, which I believe live theatre delivers, far, far more than television and movies ever can. Who of us has not watched countless teenagers—and, yes, adults like all of us here this afternoon—bent over their little hand-held electronic gadgets, typing away with their thumbs, and often doing this while ignoring the spouse/partner, child or dear friend who is walking by their side?

Dear audience, there is a very special connection which takes place between living performers in a quality play or musical and the live audience sitting and facing that stage, rapt with attention, identification, and even passionate excitement. It’s the energy that is exchanged back and forth between the cast on stage and the audience that makes theatre so alive and so real.

Just a few weeks ago, an usher at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, where my production of “Jersey Boys” is being seen by close to 10,000 living and breathing and laughing and involved people every week, told me that an elderly man burst into tears during a serious moment in Act ii. Who knows what highly personal, private connection caused such a deep response, but such responses rarely happen from encounters with other art forms.

Live theatre can be profoundly affecting, and at times, even life-affirming, and I am very proud to be involved in offering it to the general public with my still-young firm, Dancap Productions.

A decade ago, Toronto was ranked among the three most thrilling and vibrant live-theatre cities on earth, not that far behind New York and London, England. What choices its citizens had! What offerings were made daily for its continual busloads of visitors from Buffalo, Ottawa and Montreal! And let us not forget the planeloads of tourists from much farther away! Millions and millions of dollars were being injected into not only theatre tickets, but our city’s restaurants and hotels, and many other attractions. The multiplier effect of theatre-ticket revenues I am told is at least four times. To put this another way, a couple of visitors to Toronto will spend close to a thousand dollars in our city, not including the cost of their theatre tickets.

We all know what happened in the late 1990s. Garth Drabinsky’s often brilliant theatrical productions, both home-grown and imported travelling road shows, collapsed into a pile of dust, scandal and sadness. Hundreds lost their jobs, thousands lost their investments in his Livent stock, and millions of Canadians and visiting tourists lost their range of choice for what to do and see in our wonderful metropolis.

Then, as if Toronto weren’t dead enough, 2003 saw the coming of SARS, and our great, world-class city became a very wounded “one-horse town” in terms of live theatre. I’m sure that many of you recall Henry Ford’s very witty throw-away comment of the late 1920s: “You can get my car in any colour, as long as it’s black.” Well, since 1999, you could go to see any major theatrical show you wanted to in Toronto by one company that had no competition. And so, you see before you “a new boy in town.” I launched Dancap Productions less than three years ago, and began to bring into Toronto some of the best the Broadway stage had to offer.

There is a beautiful quotation which most people think was coined by Robert Kennedy, since he used it often, but the senator had actually “lifted it” from a Bernard Shaw play of over a century ago: “Most people look at the world as it is, and ask ‘Why?’ I look at the world as it can be, and ask ‘Why not?’”

I like that quotation as well. Several years ago, I looked at an exquisite theatre in North York, also known as the North York Performing Arts Centre and later named “The Ford Centre.” The main stage had been “dark” for most of every year, except for the occasional college graduation or local choir performance. Its 1,800 beautiful and comfortable seats had remained essentially empty since the collapse of Livent over a decade ago. I looked at its possible resurrection, and thought, “Why not?”

The city of North York, soon to become part of the G.T.A., had been losing up to $3 million a year of taxpayers’ money with that stunning structure. And today, the Toronto Centre for the Arts is a vital and thrilling part of the theatrical and cultural landscape of the G.T.A., and of all of Canada.

Think back to the “glory days” of commercial theatre, back in the 1990s, when Mirvish and Drabinsky were fighting it out with “Lion King” at the Princess of Wales and “Mama Mia” down at the Royal Alex; with “Phantom of the Opera” at the Pantages, and “Ragtime” at the Ford Centre. The competition between those two theatrical empires was thrilling, and it forced each company to be better, and made the public expect and demand excellence. I am part of the answer for those dreadful setbacks in our city’s cultural scene: the collapse of Livent and the coming of what was initially called “severe acute respiratory syndrome.” The loss of an exciting theatrical empire and the coming of SARS were devastating to our economy, and to our city’s reputation.

My creation of Dancap Productions and my dream of producing memorable and highly entertaining and fabulously professional shows from Broadway and the West End (filled with Canadian talent both on-stage and behind the scenes) is part of that vision for a better, more exciting future for all of us.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am talking here about the vitality, the joy, and the life-enhancing magic, which occurs when an audience of many hundreds of men, women and children watch, experience, and share live theatre together.

Am I happy to have secured, for many years, the main stage in the stunning Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York, where I can have long runs of shows such as the multi-award-winning “Jersey Boys”? Of course I am. But I was far less happy to discover that my competition, which has had a monopoly in Toronto for the last decade, sought out a deal behind my back with Key Brand, my partner, an American company. Together we had purchased the Canon and Panasonic theatres from Live Nation giving me the Canadian management rights to run the two theatres. I was forced to go to court to try and stop the sale of those two beautiful downtown theatres to them. I failed, although I am still fighting, this time for damages. But what a shame that I lost those crucial theatres where I had hoped to present and produce many fine shows for many years for our fellow citizens. So much for others sharing my belief that competition makes us all better, as well as providing more and finer choices of entertainment for the theatre-going public of our city.

I can assure you, competition makes for better offerings and greater choices for the public and that is what I am determined to do with Dancap Productions in the years and decades ahead.

I had an interesting experience recently. My grade-seven drama teacher phoned me up, over three decades after I had last seen her, and asked me excitedly, “Aubrey, was I the one who inspired you to go into the theatre business?”

It would have been sweet to lie to her, just to make her feel good, but I just couldn’t do that. I admitted to my former grade seven drama teacher that Dancap Productions was seen by me as a business with the serious goal of filling a need: there are theatre-starved people in this city.

As I noted earlier, I run several other “less theatrical” businesses, which invest in promising companies, such as Porter Air, and many more around the world. But what can bring me and a growing number of my fellow citizens greater joy than influencing the very lifestyle of hundreds of thousands of Canadians?

People used to say, “The customer is always right,” but we all know that this is rarely the case, and merely lip-service. People are taken for granted by most companies and I am working to change that with Dancap Productions. I insisted from day one that we have “customers,” not “subscribers,” who later become members that turn into raving fans. Rather than lock people into rigid blocks of shows, I give them options, and for coming to our shows I reward them with Dancap points. (We Canadians love our points. Ask Aeroplan or Shopper’s optimum people!) I always say “thank you” to our members for doing business with Dancap, We are always differentiating ourselves, as we don’t want to be the same as others.

We began as a presenting company, and then we started to co-produce, and then moved on to licensing shows by backing major theatrical productions on Broadway and the West End so that we can lock-in Canadian rights, and much more.

Most of all, dear Empire Club members, I love “show business” because it is a human business. It is called “live theatre” for a reason: every night, it’s a different work of art up there on stage. Movies can be wonderful, but once they are shot and edited and put into the can, they are frozen, and remain the same. Not so, with live theatre.

We are all hybrids—even if not enough of us drive hybrids! My late mother was a gifted artist; my father is an inspired entrepreneur. I am a marriage of both of those backgrounds, and I am so proud to be involved in creating an actual lifestyle: spreading the crucial connectiveness which is joining with a vibrant and ever-growing, worldwide entertainment economy. We are all hungering for human and social contact, and I, Aubrey Dan, President of Dancap Productions, am here to feed all of you. You can interpret that word literally as well: I recently created “Dancap catering” offering 3-course prix fixe meals right inside the Toronto Centre for the Arts, so one can experience the true meaning of dinner-and-a-show!

I am honoured to do my part in bringing more theatre—quality, highly professional theatre—to Toronto and all of Canada.

The impact on our economy, our lives, and our very spiritual growth can be huge—and very, very positive. Thank you for coming today, and for letting me share my thoughts and dreams. See you at the theatre!

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Gareth S. Seltzer, President, TWS Private Management, and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Lights… Orchestra… Curtains: Bring on the Best of World-Class Live Theatre!

The speaker’s response to the oft-asked question “Why did you get into the theatre business?” Getting the theatre bug. Co-productions with Canstage. Founding “Dancap Productions.” Technology and society – social contact. The importance of the live theatre. Some history and background to theatre in Toronto. Competition in Toronto. The effect of SARS. The Toronto Centre for the Arts. The speaker’s vision for a better, more exciting future. The joy of sharing live theatre together. The speaker’s loss of the Canon and Panasonic theatres. Other business ventures. The speaker’s love of “show business.” Impact on the economy, lives, and spiritual growth of live theatre.