Before Garth Drabinsky was granted full parole on Jan. 20, he was subjected to a two-hour grilling by two members of the Parole Board of Canada. They were clearly satisfied with the answers, but for those who have experienced the roller-coaster ride of this relentlessly driven mogul’s sensational rise and even more sensational fall, many intriguing mysteries remain in the latest instalment of the world according to Garth.
As a veteran follower of Drabinsky’s ups and downs, I would have to agree there would be little purpose in forcing him to report to a halfway house to sleep, as he had been doing for almost a year since being granted day parole. (It would make more sense if he were obliged to check in regularly with Deloitte.)
So the fallen showbiz titan achieved a breakthrough, 15 years after the collapse of the Livent theatre empire he created and controlled as CEO, five years after he was convicted of fraud and almost a year after he was released from jail.
Until the fall of 2016, he will still have to report to his parole officer, and he is still barred from handling other people’s money or running a company. But Drabinsky has a lot of room now to create shows for stage and screen, and arrange for theatres to be built — as long as he is working as a consultant and not controlling the finances.
Meanwhile, many fascinating points remain secret. Some of them concern the $7 million in loans Drabinsky has received from prominent friends. Ten of them wrote letters in support of Drabinsky’s bid for full parole, making clear that they were not asking to be repaid any time soon. That’s how the scale of the loans became public.
When asked at the hearing why he needed so much money, Drabinsky cited huge legal costs for his defence in the wake of the Livent debacle.
But beyond paying the legal bills, a huge chunk of money was needed to guarantee that the accused (and later convicted) felon could go on consuming the luxuries of life at the top.
Throughout his post-Livent nightmare period, one of the most startling points about Drabinsky’s behaviour is the degree to which he has maintained a lavish Gatsby-like lifestyle despite his problems. That included a glitzy and expensive 2005 wedding to his second wife, keeping two luxurious residences — the city one in Forest Hill, the country one in Muskoka — and driving a Range Rover.
Keeping a low profile and staying under the radar were clearly never part of his strategy. The concept of cutting down on expenses seems a violation of his DNA. A great deal of his time and effort clearly went into persuading wealthy and powerful old friends to write big cheques.
But the most troubling questions concern a showbiz debacle much more recent than the collapse of Livent. There were plenty of casualties when the Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival went down after one disastrous season in 2011.
Officially Drabinsky was billed as programming director, while sports and TV producer Kevin Albrecht was the CEO, but the $15-million budgeted enterprise had the stamp of Drabinsky’s personality on it.
How odd, then, that when asked at his parole hearing what work he had done in the years between Livent’s collapse and the start of his jail term, Drabinsky referred to his movie The Gospel of John, his TV show Triple Sensation and his stage production The Island, but skipped over BlackCreek. And the parole board members did not ask about Drabinsky’s role in that fiasco.
In fact, the misconceived outdoor summer music festival was Drabinsky’s last hurrah before his 16-month stay in jail.
Despite massive advertising and big-name stars, not nearly enough tickets were sold to events at the cavernous Rexall Centre in an outdoor tennis stadium on the York University campus. And five of 17 concerts were cancelled. A huge stage built for the festival at a cost of $1 million went into storage.
Why? Problems included hard-to-access venue location, parking hassles, heavy traffic and unpredictable weather. But the overriding issue was one that has been a constant theme throughout Drabinsky’s career: wildly unlikely and excessively great expectations. Result: huge losses and the festival’s demise.
According to a notice posted two years ago on the BlackCreek website, the festival was taking 2012 off to restructure but was definitely planning to be return with improved stability.
No one ever announced that BlackCreek was gone forever, but I don’t know anyone who expects it to be revived.
Not to worry. Drabinsky is back at work, with a number of exciting and expensive showbiz projects he is planning to create. The saga continues.